The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors on Thursday voted to oppose a bill working its way through the General Assembly that would allow towns with more than 40,000 residents—like Leesburg—to become cities.
Del. J. Randall Minchew’s (R-10) House Bill 192 would provide an exemption to a long-standing moratorium on new city charters in Virginia. Such charters are uniquely impactful, because Virginia cities are county-equivalent—in other words, the City of Leesburg would not technically be in Loudoun, but would be a separate municipality. Its residents and businesses would no longer pay county taxes or be eligible to use its services.
Minchew has said he filed the bill to free the Leesburg Town Council to study the possibility, and that the council couldn’t justify the study if there was no possibility of a city charter. There is currently no formal push for a city charter and there are mixed feelings among town leaders about the idea.
Former Leesburg mayor Supervisor Kristen Umstattd (D-Leesburg) was the bill’s sole champion on the Board of Supervisors.
“They [the Leesburg Town Council] are aware that a number of cities across the Commonwealth offer full city services to their citizens at a lower property tax rate than is currently paid by folks who live in towns and have to pay two levels of tax,” Umstattd said. “That’s the motivation for this request from Leesburg.”
Other supervisors opposed the idea, suggesting they would explore deals with the town to bring taxes down, or even have Leesburg unincorporate to do away with town taxes entirely.
“I’m tempted to join Supervisor Umstattd, just from the perspective of it would greatly increase the chances of moving our government facilities to Ashburn,” said Supervisor Ron Meyer (R-Broad Run). “So if Leesburg wants to go down this road, hey, be my guest, but know the consequences.”
The board voted 7-1-1 to oppose HB 192 as part of the its legislative agenda, with Umstattd opposed and Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) absent.