Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chairman Scott K. York, who was elected countywide last November for a second term, presented a "state of the county" address and outlined his vision for the future Thursday before an audience at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast.
Speaking at the Holiday Inn in Leesburg, York (I-At Large) laid out an ambitious series of initiatives he hopes the county will pursue over the three years remaining in the board's term.
York said Loudoun should consider changing the way it is governed by, among other things, staggering elections so the county does not face wild policy swings from election to election, as has been the case on growth and development issues. All nine supervisors come up for election at the same time, every four years.
York said the county's chapter of the League of Women Voters should convene a panel to consider changes, but he provided few details.
"Our form of government was established for a small rural farming community," York said. By the end of the decade, the county will have 300,000 people, York said, up from 235,000 today and 23,000 a half-century ago. That kind of population change should spur new thinking, he said.
One problem York faces in pushing such changes is that he no longer sets the county's course. Unlike in his first term, York is typically part of a three- or four-member minority on the nine-member board. Whether he will be able to persuade his Republican colleagues, who have a majority on the board, to take action on his agenda remains unclear.
As part of his government overhaul, York also proposed studying whether the county should turn the Sheriff's Office into a police department with a leader who is appointed by the county rather than elected by voters.
"Is it time to move forward with a police department and take the politics out of law enforcement?" said York, who has long feuded with Sheriff Stephen O. Simpson, in part because of York's previous calls for such changes.
Concerning the county's congested roads, York said he asked County Administrator Kirby M. Bowers to examine the possibility of Loudoun taking on its own debt to build roads, even though that is usually a state responsibility.
York appealed to the gathered executives to speak out in support of extending Metrorail into Loudoun, which he said could be jeopardized by county board members critical of an extension. "That would be a tremendous loss," York said.
Virginia received permission in June to begin engineering work on a Metrorail extension to Reston, a necessary step before federal money can be allocated for the project. Planners hope the extension will be the first leg of a new line that stretches to Dulles International Airport and farther into Loudoun, with stops at Routes 606 and 772.
Supervisor Lori L. Waters (R-Broad Run), who listened to York's speech, said she was worried that bringing rail into Loudoun could place a significant financial burden on the county because of costs of building and operating the extension.
"I'm concerned about what happens when rail crosses the county line," she said. "If it means an automatic tax increase for residents and businesses, I can't support that."
Robert Johnson, a program manager with the Loudoun Chamber of Commerce, said, "It would be a horrible thing for the Board of Supervisors to nix the idea of rail coming out."
He said rail could spur economic development and could be funded by a mix of local and regional taxes and passenger fares.
The rail ideas remain preliminary because federal and other funds needed to take the system to the airport, let alone deeper into Loudoun, have yet to be identified.
York also warned that the potential for building tens of thousands of houses near Dulles as part of a recent flurry of development proposals could threaten a key economic engine. He said the new homes could consume industrial property that could otherwise be used for airport-related development.
"This would be a disaster for the airport," York said.
But Waters noted that there are "very clear differences of opinion on the growth issue" among supervisors.
"From my perspective, I'm not going to do anything that intentionally hurts the airport," she said.