We Think: Bad Politics

We Think: Bad Politics

July 25, 2016.

Meeting on July 21, Loudoun supervisors voted to raise their office budgets by $240,000 for reasons that the six who voted in favor generally characterized as the growing cost of serving constituents.  Read: more staff.

We credit the three supervisors who voted nay – Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn), Kristen Umstattd (D-Leesburg) and Suzanne Volpe (R-Algonkian). Vice chairman Buona even pressed for an amendment to exclude his office from the annual increase and will not receive it for the remainder of his term.

What are the rest of them thinking?

Let’s review.  The Board completed its annual budget process this spring, making decisions on which programs get more money and which don’t.  These decisions affect the salaries, office budgets and activities of everyone in county government, and by extension those in the public school system too. These decisions also affect Loudoun’s taxpayers.

Now, in the heat of the summer when most citizens are assumed to be on vacation or not paying attention, and at its final meeting before taking the traditional August “month off”, the Board of Supervisors discovers that it has “unallocated” money to spend AND that supervisors need more money to do their jobs.

Wait a minute. Why didn’t that conversation happen during the regular budget process as part of the public discussion of how to prioritize the tax revenue used to serve Loudoun County?

We heard advocates for the increase say that Loudoun pays much less for supervisor offices and staff than does Fairfax.  That has been true for decades, and Fairfax has a population three times the size of Loudoun’s.

We heard the same said about Prince William County.  That’s not a fair comparison either, as Prince William also gives its supervisors money to dole out to non-profit groups, something only done through the annual budget process here in Loudoun.

It’s only $240,000 someone told us. That’s not small change to most citizens, and as a percentage of current budgets a $30,000 per office raise is significant.

Still, it’s not the amount we take issue with here nor the value of dialogue about how much the Office of the Chairman has to spend each year ($161,000, after another raise a year ago) and how much each of the eight other supervisors have to spend ($120,597).

The problem is the Board’s process and timing.

It gets worse. The Board’s action last week was not just to allocate unspent funds; supervisors built that same increase into their budgets on an annual basis, absent action to reverse it, and Chair Randall (D-At Large) asked for even more money during her closing comments.

This is not the first time there have been rumblings of supervisors trying to give themselves more money outside of the regular budget cycle, but this year they actually did it.

Voting yourself a back door budget increase is always bad politics and does nothing to inspire the public’s trust.

It’s an uncharacteristically dissonant move from a new Board still getting its sea legs.

UPDATE: Chair Randall has requested that the Tribune clarify that the additional $12,000 she asked for beyond the $30,000 approved by the Board for her office and each of seven other offices was being requested from the two members of the Board who voted against the motion but were accepting the new monies.