Last month, Loudoun Administrator Tim Hemstreet presented a proposed $1.8 billion budget for fiscal 2014, a plan that maintained core government services and offered enhancements to certain funding priorities, such as local transportation and economic development initiatives.
Hemstreet prepared a budget assuming an equalized real property tax rate of $1.23 per $100 of assessed value. An equalized rate would mean that average county taxpayers would not see any changes in their tax bills. But last month, Hemstreet told supervisors that the $1.23 would actually increase most tax bills by about 1 percent, resulting in about $15 million in additional revenue.
With the School Board’s requested budget totaling $859.7 million, the spending plan left the school system facing an $18 million shortfall, a number reduced to about $15 million because of unanticipated state funding.
Supervisors face a choice: hold to the $1.23 tax rate and use the additional revenue to fund the school budget or other initiatives, or return the extra money to taxpayers and force the school system to come up with additional cuts to save millions of dollars.
Cuts to schools and nonprofit organizations were of paramount concern to speakers at three recent public hearings about the budget. Scores of parents and school system employees asked county leaders to fully fund the school budget. And numerous supporters of Loudoun Interfaith Relief and Brain Injury Services implored supervisors to reconsider the proposed 20 percent reduction in funding to each organization.
This week, as supervisors completed their review of funding for regional and local organizations, full funding was restored to Loudoun Interfaith Relief, but the nearly $4,000 funding cut to Brain Injury Services will proceed as recommended, county officials said.
Supervisors have also focused on public safety and economic development initiatives and transportation issues. This week, supervisors approved nearly $500,000 to support the continuance of Virginia Regional Transit Authority bus routes in Loudoun. The service, a federal grant-funded rural transportation program, lost its funding after it was determined that the routes no longer qualified as “rural” transportation, said Ben Mays, Loudoun’s chief financial officer.
“That was a big discussion,” Mays said. “We’re going to work with the state to try to figure out how not to lose the service, but we were facing about a $500,000 shortfall” for fiscal 2014, he said.