Loudoun board continues discussions on Silver Line

In the wake of an hours-long work session about Loudoun County’s involvement with Metrorail’s Silver Line, the Board of Supervisors decided Wednesday to schedule an additional meeting to discuss the matter before casting a final vote on whether to stay committed to the project.

At the work session Wednesday night, supervisors delved into financing and debt structure options for Loudoun’s roughly $270 million share of the construction costs for Phase 2 of the project, which would bring Metrorail service to Dulles International Airport and into Loudoun. By the end of the session, it remained undecided how the board might fund the county’s portion of the costs, and whether the project would get majority support when it’s time for a final vote before the July 4 deadline.

Supervisors met just hours after the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority cast a pivotal vote Wednesday morning to drop a controversial project labor agreement from Phase 2 of the construction deal. The union-friendly incentive included in the agreement had drawn sharp criticism from Loudoun’s supervisors and Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), and its removal from the plans was welcome news in Loudoun.

But, despite the development, Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles) cautioned that there is no guarantee Loudoun will sign on to the project.

“Even without the [project labor agreement], we’re still having a very difficult discussion about how to pay for Metro,” he said. “My views have evolved on this, and I’ve reached a point where I’m pretty comfortable. But there are not five votes on the board right now that are where I am. There are still concerns with the overall costs and the annual costs.”

At Wednesday’s meeting, several board members agreed that it would be best to decide on a general funding plan before voting on whether to stay with the project. Supervisors differed on how to best establish a financial framework.

Options previously presented to the board have included using gas tax revenue, instituting a countywide commercial and industrial tax and establishing special tax districts in the areas closest to Silver Line stations. The board could also decide not to use tax money to fund the project and instead draw from the county’s general fund.

By the end of the work session, it appeared that establishing special tax districts was the most likely option if Loudoun chooses to sign on to the project. Supervisors appeared interested in the possibility of creating tiered, or “hybrid,” tax districts, meaning that properties closest to the Metro stations would be taxed at a higher level than those slightly farther away.

Supervisor Suzanne Volpe (R-Algonkian) said that a vote to be included in to Phase 2 of the Silver Line should be contingent on the identification of a funding plan, particularly for the benefit of residents concerned about the potential effect on their county tax bills.

“I think I would not feel comfortable unless we had something basically outlined — that we’re going to do A, and we’re going to do B,” she said. “There’s been enough misinformation out there. . . . I think it would calm some folks down.”

Supervisor Kenneth “Ken” Reid (R-Leesburg), who released a statement early Wednesday saying that the Silver Line was a “bad deal” for Loudoun despite the removal of the project labor agreement, said that he would “want to see that a tax district” is in place before voting for the project.

It appeared unlikely that the county would be able to officially establish such districts, which would involve drafting the required ordinances and soliciting community input, before the July 4 deadline. But Reid said that even if a deadline extension were necessary, “I think it’s worth the time to give it to us.”

Reid said he is concerned that the districts might not come to fruition if the board voted to be part of Phase 2 without a clear plan in place.

“We might not actually get that tax. It’ll die here on the dais, and then we’re back to the general fund paying for it,” he said.

Supervisor Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn) agreed that it would be helpful to let the community know what the board’s plan for special tax districts would be but that he didn’t believe it would be possible to solidify boundaries before a final vote is needed.

“As a board, we’ve got to get to a framework of what a solution is
. . . but we’re never going to get the whole mechanism in place” in time, he said.

Letourneau said he supported establishing a framework to help residents understand how the project would be financed, but he stressed his belief that residents had made it clear that they expect the board to find a way to make the rail extension a reality.

He referred to a packed June 4 public input session, at which a clear majority of the more than 100 speakers urged the board to vote in favor of the Silver Line.

“We have the public support to try to work something out,” Letourneau said. “We know where the county is on this.”

As of Friday, a date for the final work session on the Dulles rail had not been scheduled. A final vote on Phase 2 of the project is expected at the board’s meeting July 3.

 
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