Loudoun County’s Board of Supervisors heard good news on Feb. 7 about several key bills being considered by the Virginia General Assembly in its 2017 session that concludes this month in Richmond.
As state lawmakers pass the “crossover” date — after which bills originating in the Senate and House of Delegates will have either been defeated, left in committee, or passed on to the other chamber — several of Loudoun’s priories are moving forward.
Chief among those are regulations on short-term rentals services such as AirBnB. SB 1578, which would permit localities to charge a fee for short-term rentals to list themselves on a registry, passed the Senate overwhelmingly and will be taken up by the House. The bill allows local governments to charge up to $500 if an operator is caught renting without being on the registry.
County officials estimate Loudoun loses up to $1 million in revenue from large scale operators who use services like AirBnB, which act and function like hotels without paying corresponding taxes. Supervisors were also concerned about the lack of regulation on conditions for rooms and properties being rented.
County staff reported to supervisors that both chambers had restored $7.5 million to the budget for Go Virginia. Another top priority for Loudoun officials, Go Virginia is a financing stream that supports private-sector growth and job creation by business, education and government entities in regions across the Commonwealth.
Funding for Go Virginia comes as the Commonwealth is facing a more than $1 billion shortfall in its biannual budget. As they work to balance the budget, lawmakers locally and statewide are still prioritizing pay increases for state workers. Both houses eliminated a bonus from the proposed budget of Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) and instead gave a three percent salary adjustment to state employees effective July 1, 2017 and a two percent increase to state-supported local employees beginning Aug. 1, 2017.
That doesn’t mean everything has gone Supervisors’ way in Richmond.
The board, and Chair Phyllis Randall (D- At Large) in particular, had advocated for increased funding for mental health assessments for prisoners. Both chambers have eliminated additional grants from their budget proposals.
“I am very disappointed about money coming out for mental health for people who are incarcerated.” said Randall, who worked more than 15 years as a mental health therapist for those in adult detention centers. “They walk back out and they walk back that much worse, to be honest, because they sat in jail without getting any services. ”
Supervisors we also disappointed in the lack of funding for additional acreage for a state park. While the Senate didn’t explicitly remove the funding, the House did, likely eliminating the opportunity for it to be included in the final budget.
Supervisors had lobbied for $2.9 million for the Department of Conservation and Recreation to purchase a 281-acre parcel contiguous to the 600-acre Loudoun State Park.
“It’s hanging by a limb,” said Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin), whose district would include the proposed park addition. “I can tell you this much, we can build on the work we did this year; if it doesn’t go, next year we’ll be back.”
An effort to give Loudoun law enforcement officers the option to charge drivers with the lesser offense of improper driving instead of reckless driving also failed. Supported by Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman (R), the bill did not make it out of Senate Committee.
At their regular meeting on Feb. 7, supervisors also voted to oppose several bills still being discussed in Richmond that staff believes could adversely affect Loudoun. They include HB 1856, which would put people on supervised probation who are being solely monitored for money collection. Staff advocated against the bill as larger counties like Loudoun are already overburdened with cases.
The Board also voted against HB 2213, which would put a cap on the lifetime benefits given to individuals from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, which provides temporary financial aid for pregnant women and families with one or more dependent children.