Be careful what you wish for. That was the message conveyed by Leesburg District Supervisor Kristen Umstattd (D-Leesburg) to her former Town Council cohorts Saturday morning.
Umstattd appeared before the council during its budget work session just days after the Board of Supervisors received a letter from the town requesting full funding of School Resource Officers in Leesburg schools.
Currently, middle and high schools in Leesburg are patrolled by Leesburg Police Department officers, although the county pays 70 percent of the cost for those SROs. Mayor Dave Butler penned a March 8 letter asking the county to pick up 100 percent of the cost.
Many supervisors—some of whom noted they saw that letter only minutes before a March 10 budget work session—reacted negatively to the town’s request, with Supervisor Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) calling the request another example of the town “trying to shift over every burden to the county.”
Saturday, Umstattd said the letter did not have the best timing, as county supervisors had already completed review of the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office funding in its preliminary budget deliberations. Umstattd advised the council to wait until after the newly created joint town/county committee on finding efficiencies between the town police department and county sheriff’s office had issued its recommendations. She said, if the council was determined to press ahead with its request, the county would post its own deputies at town schools rather than fully fund Leesburg police officers positions. She also said it was likely county board would divert gas tax funding earmarked for Leesburg—$580,000 in FY 2017—to cover the extra cost.
“The best thing for Leesburg taxpayers this upcoming fiscal year is to continue with the current status quo because you’re bringing in $1.2 million,” between the gas tax funding and the amount the county already contributes to town SROs, Umstattd said. “Otherwise you lose that funding and it’s not just gas tax it’s also the fact that the county right now is paying 70 percent of six or seven Leesburg police officers.”
The Town Council has held a preference to have town police officers in the schools and full county funding the positions has long been on its wish list. But Saturday, following Umstattd’s remarks, the council appeared content to put the brakes on its request and instead discuss it as part of the joint committee’s work.
And council members seemed hopeful that good things could come from those talks.
“This joint committee will maybe be the start of more face-to-face interaction between the county and the town,” Councilman Bruce Gemmill posited. “You can’t beat that.”
Reporter Renss Greene contributed to this report.