The Loudoun Board of Supervisors has begun work on its fiscal year 2017 budget, and members have made no bones about their frustration with the School Board’s requests.
“It’s frustrating to have the School Board come forward with a Capital Improvement Program request that absolutely everybody knows is impossible,” said Finance/Government Operations and Economic Development Committee Chairman Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles.) “It’s not productive.”
Letourneau has already criticized the School Board’s record-setting $1.07 billion proposed budget for requesting more money than the county has to give, even after a small raise in the county’s ability to issue new debt.
“Their staff knew what our fiscal guidelines were and what our limitations were, and yet they proceed with a CIP that is literally impossible,” Letourneau said.
Superintendent Eric Williams has previously defended the school’s construction financing plan.
“We create our CIP based on our needs, so we can’t let county fiscal policy drive our articulation of needs,” Williams said in December. “It was not without hesitation that we proposed the CIP that we did. These schools are needed.”
The Board of Supervisors’ finance committee has now set about trying to fit the School Board’s requests into the county’s Capital Improvement Program, that part of the county budget that funds new infrastructure and facilities. The CIP looks six years ahead.
The School Board has requested $190.6 million for projects above what was in the current CIP. School projects make up the second-largest category of expenses in the CIP at 31 percent, behind only transportation projects.
This year’s budget picture is tight—County Administrator Tim Hemstreet has already suggested the county increase the real estate tax rate to bring in more revenues. Supervisors Letourneau and Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn) said they were not ready to comment whether the county would need to raise taxes.
The staff-proposed CIP does accelerate plans to construct four new schools: a Dulles North elementary school (ES-23) in Arcola Center, a Dulles South elementary school (ES-28) next to John Champe High School, a Dulles South middle school (MS-7) on Braddock Road in Chantilly, and a Dulles North high school (HS-11) in Brambleton. Some of these projects were not moved as far ahead in the CIP as the School Board has requested. Staff members said they chose projects to accelerate based on which ones have sites picked out, and which can therefore be ready to build sooner.
The CIP also allocates money for removing the modular classrooms from Briar Woods High School in 2019. And after fervent requests from students at a recent Board of Supervisors meeting, the CIP now budgets for synthetic turf at Dominion, Freedom, and Heritage High schools in 2021 and 2022.
But that money has to come from somewhere, and several projects around the county have been delayed to make room in the budget for the schools, including a one-year delay in the design and construction of another Dulles South high school (HS-9) which does not yet have a site secured. The county will also push back purchasing property around the courts complex in Leesburg three years to 2020, and financing for a Leesburg South Fire Station was also pushed to 2020 as the Department of Fire, Rescue, and Emergency Management searches for a new site.
And Buona, who has lobbied hard against a bill in the General Assembly that limits proffer agreements between counties and developers, had a parting shot for state legislators:
“For our friends in the General Assembly in Richmond, I think it needs to be said publicly that this CIP has about $72 million of proffer money in it, so for those down there making statements about how we sit on our proffer money, just come look at our CIP and see that is not true.”
The finance committee will hold a CIP work session on Feb. 23. The Board of Supervisors is expected to vote on the CIP and county budget on April 5.