Loudoun County supervisors agreed yesterday to put $125.4 million worth of schools and other building projects to a voter referendum in November, fueling some officials' concerns about rising debt and taxes.
In a 7 to 1 vote with one absence, supervisors agreed to ask voters whether they wanted to take on more debt to pay for four new schools, an Ashburn library and a fire station in Dulles South, among other projects.
Supervisors put off until their next meeting a decision about whether to send to referendum two public swimming pools--one in western Loudoun and one in Countryside--because of concerns about the projects' cost.
Board members said the projects they agreed to put to referendum are needed to keep up with booming population growth. The county is adding more than 1,000 residents a month, and school officials complain that classrooms are increasingly crowded as a result.
"They're absolutely needed projects," Board Chairman Dale Polen Myers (R-At Large) said. "You're sending the choice to the voters to decide."
The board agreed to put four questions on the ballot. Here are the major elements of each:
* A public safety center, which would house firefighters and paramedics in Dulles South, along with the expansion of a fire and rescue training facility in the Leesburg area and other projects totaling about $11.5 million.
* A new library in the Ashburn area, along with the expansion of the Lovettsville library, for about $8.1 million.
* An elementary and middle school in eastern Loudoun; an intermediate school in western Loudoun; a high school in the Leesburg area; an addition to Lucketts Elementary School; replacement of heating and cooling systems at four schools, for a total of about $100.4 million.
* An addition and renovation at the North Street School Administration Building in Leesburg, for about $5.3 million.
Supervisor Steven D. Whitener (R-Sugarland Run) cast the vote against sending the proposals to referendum, saying the county should not assume the debt. He said supervisors would increase taxes in coming years to pay off the debt.
"I don't think debt is the way to go," Whitener said. "The idea of putting these costs on our children and grandchildren so we can enjoy the benefits today is fundamentally wrong."
But other supervisors attacked Whitener, saying that he had voted to allow housing projects that have generated new students and required the construction of new schools. Supervisor Eleanore C. Towe (D-Blue Ridge) criticized Whitener for casting votes in favor of new development.
"The children are here. The need for the schools is here," Towe said. "Mr. Whitener should have asked what it would cost to educate all of these people he invited into the county when he voted for the residential development."
Supervisor Scott K. York (R-Sterling) said the magnitude of the debt that the county would need to issue in general obligation bonds illustrated why new controls are needed on development. York, who is running against Myers for chairman of the board on a slow-growth platform, has been pressing the Virginia General Assembly to allow localities to limit growth in areas where there are not enough schools and other facilities.
York said the amount of debt on the ballot is "ridiculous. It's out of hand."
"We simply need to have controls to work on our growth," he said.
Supervisors postponed consideration of two pools, which would be built next to schools to allow the public and students to use them. Supervisors expressed reservations about the projects after county staff members estimated the cost of the two facilities, along with fitness rooms, at $7.4 million--$1.4 more than previously projected. Also postponed was a decision about sending to referendum a ballfield complex in Leesburg.