At the outset of the talks, the hallmark of the fiscal year 2018 budget debate on the general county government side of the ledger is addressing staff shortages.
The post-recession revenue pinch forced many local governments to defer filling vacancies or adding new positions. In a fast-growing county like Loudoun, those deferrals have a larger impact. Past boards of supervisors have worked to keep public safety agencies staffed while also trying to keep pace with rapid school enrollment increases. They addressed the most pressing priorities. Other government functions—especially social services—largely took a back seat.
This year, it looks like supervisors will be able to do a little more. The county administrator’s proposed budget seeks to add the equivalent of 200 more full-time employees to the payroll. In this year’s budget, the board added 48.
Just how far is the government behind on its staffing? The budget identifies another 29 unfilled departmental funding increase requests that are categorized as “critical needs.” Filling them would require another 28 full-time staffing positions and about $5 million.
On the list of unfunded requests are big ticket items—hundreds of thousands of dollars here and there—for efforts such as expanding the use of body-worn cameras in the Sheriff’s Office and hiring a new county prosecutor to specialize in domestic violence cases.
Among the smaller ticket items is a request for $38,060 to convert the part-time veterans coordinator position to a full-time post. Initiated by the previous board, the county’s Veterans Services Program won statewide recognition, providing a model for how communities can better serve servicemen and servicewomen returning home from war zones as well as the families of those who are deployed. Supervisors have heard repeated testimony that the program works—it’s impactful and vital. It’s also been a challenge to make work with a part-timer, supervisors have been told.
Those and other items on the “critical needs” list are likely to garner most of the discussion in the board room over the next several weeks. In those talks, many supervisors will be focused on holding to the proposed 1-cent reduction to the property tax rate.
Important to that context is the projection included in the budget document stating the lower tax rate is expected to reduce the bill of the average homeowner by $5 next year. That’s enough for a Happy Meal or a fancy cup of coffee. What is the community’s price if another battered woman is murdered by an ex who violates a protective order, or if a struggling vet can’t get life-saving help? This budget season offers the opportunity to find a better balance.