Democrats’ Final Effort to Add More for Schools Fails
Backed by a stronger-than-expected commercial tax base, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors gave its final approval April 4 to a rare budget that simultaneously boosted funding for many areas of county services while cutting real property taxes.
The 2018 budget passed 8-1 with Supervisor Koran Saines (D-Sterling) opposed, and goes into effect July 1.
Commercial sector investment and a strengthening economy bolstered a tax base that generated revenue beyond what county staff had predicted even as early as the beginning of this year. Additionally, overall property values have continued to rise, though slowly, and the assessed value of the average single-family home has gone from $436,400 in 2015 to $454,700 this year.
That strong financial position allowed supervisors to go beyond the budget allocations recommended by County Administrator Tim Hemstreet while also giving Loudoun residents one of their largest year-over-year tax decreases in memory.
The tax rate will drop from $1.45 in FY17 to 1.25 per $100 in FY18, a decrease of more than $80 year-over-year in tax payments for the average Loudoun homeowner.
This year’s $2.5 billion budget will see the addition of nearly 212 full time equivalent employment positions, more than the 189 Hemstreet proposed with an equalized rate of $1.35. It also provides for a 3 percent merit pay increase to eligible county employees.
The county will also finance $1.1 billion for Loudoun County Public Schools, which is 99.3 percent of superintendent Eric Williams’ initial request. It includes increases of around 8 percent year-over-year to finance more than 400 new positions for the Commonwealth’s fastest-growing school district, which is expected to see a nearly 3.8 percent increase in student population by the upcoming school year.
Much of the rest of the budget will enhance county resources for public safety, social safety net services and new public facilities. That includes new employees for the Dulles South Multipurpose Center, Kirkpatrick Farms Fire Rescue Station, the Brambleton Library and the Ashburn Sheriff’s Station.
More funding will also go to domestic violence prevention, child protective services and substance abuse programs, requests strongly advocated for by Chair Phyllis Randall (D-At Large).
The Board also adjusted the Capital Improvement Program, which has $2 billion in funding for the six-year planning period from FY 2017 to FY 2022. Along with around $800 million in funding for ongoing road projects, the updated CIP accelerates the opening of a new high school in the Dulles South area by one year to the fall of 2020.
Other school projects include four new elementary schools, one new middle school, one additional new high schools and classroom additions to bring full day kindergarten countywide. Additionally, the CIP prioritizes two synthetic turf athletic fields in FY17 at Heritage and Dominion High Schools.
Because of the county’s strong financial position, Supervisors said the months-long budgeting process went by relatively smoothly.
The final budget vote passed following a motion by Supervisor Suzanne Volpe (R-Algonkian) to approve without debate. Her motion passed 6-3, with all six board Republicans in favor and the three Democrats opposed.
The partisan divide lingered after the budget’s approval, and following the final vote, the Board’s Democratic members pushed to allocate money from the county’s fund balance to finance the school board’s request for more buses and text books, actions that wouldn’t raise the FY18 tax rate.
The Republican supervisors opposed the motions, as they had in previous budget discussions, saying that Supervisors weren’t a rubber stamp for the School Board’s requests and that they didn’t want to further deplete the county’s fund balance, which they said had already allocated more than enough for the school system in this budget cycle.
Randall also said the board didn’t appropriately fund ECHO, an organization that helps workers with disabilities in Loudoun find employment. Republicans countered that the Board had already increased funding significantly from the previous budget and could allocate future funds to the group if necessary.