Partisan political shots were fired at last week's meeting of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors as the board reelected Betty W. Tatum (D-Guilford) chairman and postponed a decision on the number of election districts for 1992 through 1995.
Although votes and debates usually do not run along party lines in county board meetings, the final year of the current board's four-year term got off to an occasionally polarized start Jan. 2. The next board and chairman will be chosen by the voters in November.
Also last week, the supervisors directed the county staff to prepare a fiscal 1992 budget proposal with a maximum potential real estate tax rate of $1.05 per $100 of assessed valuation and a list of possible budget cuts that would permit the tax rate to be as low as the current 85 cents.
The nomination of Supervisor Steve W. Stockman (R-Broad Run) to be board chairman for this year failed 4 to 3, with the four Democrats present voting no and the three Republicans on the board voting yes. This week, Stockman announced that he will not seek election to his board seat or the chairmanship after his current term ends at the end of the year.
Tatum's nomination was approved 5 to 2, with Supervisor James F. Brownell (R-Blue Ridge) joining the majority and Supervisor Betsey Brown (D-Catoctin) absent. A follow-up vote made Tatum's victory unanimous.
In her state-of-the-county speech, Tatum listed the board's accomplishments in the last three years and frequently lashed out at those who have attacked the incumbents. "It is very easy to criticize when those who criticize lack accountability, or the responsibility for making the decisions," she said.
Tatum said that "those who choose to view the actions of the board through a negative, cynical lens . . . are missing a tremendous opportunity for positive change and influence." At the start of her fifth one-year term as chairman, Tatum noted that the board "will not be starting new initiatives in 1991."
Last November, Loudoun voters approved a referendum that forces countywide election of the board chairman, a new position, to a four-year term beginning in November. Currently, the chairman is selected by the eight district supervisors from among their ranks each year.
The at-large chairman position will mean that the board will have nine members unless the current board changes the number of election districts. The supervisors had scheduled a decision on that question for last week, but they delayed that choice indefinitely amid partisan discord.
Board members generally agree that there should be six or eight districts; the addition of the at-large chairman will produce an odd number of supervisors and minimize tie votes. The Blue Ribbon Committee that studied the Loudoun government urged that eight districts be continued when boundaries are redrawn this year, as required by federal law.
"I question the motives of anyone" who tries to make that decision now, before public input sessions, said Vice Chairman Charles A. Bos (D-Leesburg), who was reelected to that post last week.
"I don't know who's going to benefit" from a choice of eight districts, Stockman countered.
In the board's budget workshop, supervisors directed the staff to develop a lengthy list of potential budget cuts so they can select programs, services and jobs that would be eliminated. Board members said they hoped they could approve a tax rate that would produce no more than a 10 percent increase in tax bills. They did not give the School Board a concrete figure of expected cuts.
Also on Jan. 2, Supervisor H. Roger Zurn Jr. (R-Sterling) proposed a task force of citizens and business people that would look for ways to make the county government more efficient. He agreed to develop a more detailed proposal for consideration by a board committee next month.