It’s time to get creative.
One sitting Loudoun supervisor and one incoming supervisor told a roomful of developers Thursday morning that they will solicit all the help they can to come up with out-of-the-box solutions to the county’s funding challenges. The crux of those hurdles is balancing population growth—and thus a dire need for more schools and infrastructure—with an impending revenue shortfall.
“These challenges don’t have to be seen as a bad thing. It means we can lead the way in some of this,” Supervisor-elect Ron Meyer (R-Broad Run) said. “I don’t see why we can’t get creative to solve them.”
Meyer and Supervisor Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin) were the featured speakers at the Northern Virginia Building Industry Association’s Loudoun Chapter Breakfast, held at the River Creek Club.
Higgins highlighted a major obstacle that the four incumbent supervisors and five new supervisors will face the day they’re sworn in—a projected $82 million budget deficit.
The funding gap stems from a smaller-than-expected increase in property values, according to numbers crunched by the Commissioner of the Revenue’s Office. The expected shortfall comes as the public school system is poised to request an $81 million increase in local tax funding next year when roughly 2,500 more students are expected.
“That’s a big challenge,” Higgins said. “We’re going to have to find ways to either cut or get revenue to deal with that.”
Some residents accuse the sitting supervisors as being too eager to approve housing developments, and point to that as the reason school construction hasn’t been able to keep pace with growth in the Brambleton and Dulles areas.
But Meyer said he sees the challenges ahead as an opportunity for county leaders to work with developers to come up with solutions.
“I see you all as a partner in doing that, not as an adversary,” he said. “We want to hear your ideas.”
For example, with the schools’ enrollment surge, it may be time to consider urban-style school sites that have smaller footprints, especially in developments like One Loudoun and around the Metro stations, he said.
The Silver Line is slated to open in Loudoun County in late 2019 or early 2020, with stations at Dulles Airport, Rt. 606 and Rt. 772. The Rt. 606 and Rt. 772 stations, named Loudoun Gateway and Ashburn, respectively, offer a blank slate for development, Meyer said.
“We have a challenge as a board—what are we going to do with this space to encourage revenue-producing growth in that area,” he said, suggesting more mixed-use development with housing, shops and offices. “Office parks are a thing of the past, and if we don’t update our Comprehensive Plan to reflect that we’re in trouble.”
Higgins said there would likely be opportunity for additional housing to be approved near Metro stations. But, generally, he doesn’t expect big changes to the Comprehensive Plan, which outlines the county’s vision for future development.
However, Meyer said there is a need for significant changes to the plan, repeating a sentiment he touted on the campaign trail. He called the plan’s vision for Rt. 28 and Rt. 7 outdated, and he suggested widening Rt. 15 and pushing harder to have a bridge built over the Potomac River to connect Loudoun County and Maryland.
“One of the biggest things holding us back are our transportation woes, so why are we bashful about talking about [the bridge]?” Meyer asked, prompting the sole applause of the morning.
To close out the meeting, Andrew Painter, president of NVBIA’s Loudoun Chapter, directed the 50-plus builders and developers in the room to raise a glass—or a coffee mug—to the incoming Board of Supervisors. He noted that they may not always see eye to eye, but he predicts most of the incoming board members will at least hear them out.
“Here’s to transparency, good governance and prosperity over the next four years,” he said.