Loudoun County Treasurer H. Roger Zurn Jr. (R) proposed overhauling the way the Board of Supervisors draws up the county budget, saying he hopes officials will put a conservative imprint on county finances after failing to do so during this year's budget process.
Zurn, citing interviews with county officials and others interested in county spending, called on supervisors to undertake an ambitious, program-by-program examination of Loudoun's finances, and to start that time-consuming process next month, much earlier than usual.
Zurn, a former supervisor, did not offer suggestions for specific program cuts, saying instead that he hopes officials will look at each service the county provides and decide whether it should continue and at what level. Still, Zurn said he expects the final result will be a smaller government in the fast-growing county.
"I think we'll have less programs being offered than we do today. I could be wrong," Zurn said. "Obviously, my bias is toward a conservative government."
Zurn's proposal, made at Tuesday's board meeting, comes just months after supervisors passed an operating budget of more than $842 million for 2004-05 after a contentious debate on county priorities. Ultimately, the GOP-controlled board made few substantial changes in the way the county taxes its residents and pays for services, predominantly schools.
The compromise budget cut a quarter-cent from Loudoun's real estate tax rate, lowering it to 1.1075 per $100 of assessed value, a move that budget hawks called a gimmick. But supporters of that budget said rising debt-service costs and Loudoun's rapidly growing student population necessitated substantial spending increases. Spending was increased by about 14 percent, and county officials estimated that an 11 percent rise in property tax assessments boosted the average homeowner's tax by more than $360.
Several supervisors said Tuesday that they expect the board will vote to adopt Zurn's approach,which calls for twice-a-week sessions in October and November to give strategic direction to the board's spending priorities and areas for reduction or elimination.
"I think it's terrific," said board Vice Chairman Bruce E. Tulloch (R-Potomac). "I think at the end of the day, we'll adopt it."
As to whether the result will be a smaller county government, as Zurn and others have advocated, Tulloch said that would begin to be hashed out at a board retreat today and tomorrow where supervisors will discuss their agenda for the remaining three years of their terms.
Supervisor Stephen J. Snow (R-Dulles) said he was looking forward to pursuing "zero-based budgeting," a method of analysis that does not assume each department should increase by a certain percentage, or that it should even exist. "It'll be a good exercise," he said.
Board Chairman Scott K. York (I-At Large) said he was intrigued by Zurn's approach, but, "quite frankly, we've got to see . . . what manpower we have available," given the many development-related and other projects consuming county staff time.
Zurn said the process should not be started unless the supervisors are serious, noting that some believe the board "got lost in details and missed the big picture" in their budget work earlier this year.
On the key issue of school funding, Zurn suggested five county supervisors should meet with five School Board members and determine, by November, projected education spending. The School Board this year passed its budget in January.
Zurn argued that the supervisors "must determine whether the budget is one of its top priorities or it should not undertake this process."
In other business, the supervisors unanimously passed revisions to county zoning laws that adopt state standards governing the number of people who can live in a single residence. Some area communities, including Herndon, have passed similar measures.
Supporters on the board said the move is necessary because unscrupulous landlords sometimes pack residents in unsafe dwellings. Critics have said such rules can unfairly target poor and immigrant populations. Supervisors said they were not targeting any group but rather are acting to keep county residents safe from fire hazards.