Modest commercial growth has paved the way for perhaps an easy budget year in the Town of Leesburg.
Town Manager Kaj Dentler tonight presented the Town Council with his proposed fiscal year 2018 budget. The $107 million budget is the first of a two-year budget, a tradition started by former Town Manager John Wells.
For the next two fiscal years, Dentler is recommending an unchanged tax rate of 18.6 cents per $100 of assessed value real estate. The equalized tax rate is 18.23 cents, and there is a $261,000 revenue difference between the equalized rate and the proposed 18.6-cent rate. If council members wish to lower that rate, they would need to cut $708,000 per penny.
If the 18.6-cent rate is adopted, residential homeowners would see slight increases in their tax bills. Single-family homeowners can expect an annual increase in their tax bill at $10, townhouses at $21, and condominium owners at $19.
Increases in commercial real estate tax revenues, at more than 10 percent, along with modest increases in new construction and assessments have helped to keep the town in a desirable financial position, Dentler said.
“It’s not crazy, runaway increases, but solid, modest growth,” he emphasized.
The General Fund budget is proposed at $46.76 million, along with $8 million in debt service. That represents an overall 5.2 percent increase in the General Fund, and a little more than a 1 percent decrease in debt service. Real estate taxes account for 23 percent of revenues for the General Fund, Dentler said.
Within the General Fund, Dentler has proposed pay for performance employee salary increases of an average of 3 percent; and, for the first time in years, an increase to the number of full-time staff members. Dentler wants to add five town staffers, three in the public works streets’ division, one in parks maintenance, and the addition of a zoning inspector. Of the addition of public works employees, Dentler noted that the number of staffers in the streets division has remained level at 27 since 2000, when Leesburg had 28,000 residents and 134 total lane miles. Since that time, both have almost doubled.
“We have not been keeping up,” Dentler said. “The whole point of [the request] is to ask for a new crew of three people or decide if we want to change the service level expectation.”
On the latter point, council members may again wrestle with the town’s brush and leaf pickup service and street sweeping operations if they want to avoid adding additional staff members. The cost for the three new public works staffers comes out to $238,000 in annual personnel costs, plus additional set-up costs to include the purchase of a new vehicle and equipment.
The parks maintenance position also represents an area where there has been no staffing increase for six years. And there has only been one town zoning inspector since one was laid off in 2010. For the 14 years prior to the layoffs, there had always been two zoning inspectors. With construction on both the residential and commercial side increasing, and aging neighborhoods giving way to perhaps more nuisance complaints, the need for the inspector position is real, Dentler said.
Two areas within the General Fund that Dentler has paid special attention to are downtown Leesburg and IT. On downtown, as he did with the current fiscal year’s budget, Dentler has set aside funding for the council to consider participation in the national Main Street program. He emphasized that is a conversation the council will need to have, as some have expressed interest in it in the past. Dentler is asking council members to put the $110,000 in annual cost for the Main Street program aside in the budget, and then have a larger discussion on whether they wish to pursue it. This annual cost would also include the hiring of at least one staff member to oversee the program, and possibly even an additional part-time employee.
Dentler has also proposed $50,000, some of which would be offset by revenues, for the creation of a new downtown event. The Taste of Leesburg would be in May or early June and give downtown restaurateurs an opportunity to showcase their culinary acumen and, perhaps most importantly, keep the momentum in the downtown area.
On the IT side, Dentler is proposing the adoption of a town-wide strategic technology plan, at a $45,000 price tag, that would include cloud infrastructure, disaster recovery, and cybersecurity.
“That’s the number one thing the Technology and Communications Commission has recommended the last couple of years,” he noted. “It’s time to consider that.”
In addressing customer service, Dentler is looking into increasing the frequency of town newsletters from annual to be quarterly, and also the addition of closed captioning for cable broadcasts of Town Council, Planning Commission, and Board of Architectural Review meetings.
Other enhancements that could create some buzz on the council dais are $250,000 for replacing the aging equipment and moving toward automation in the Town Hall parking garage, as well as $40,000 for a consultant to guide the H2 Overlay District review process.
The six-year Capital Improvements Program, at $117 million, includes $27.5 million in fiscal year 2018 which includes utilities projects. Eighty-two percent of projects in the CIP are for streets and utilities projects, Dentler said. Some major projects moving dirt next fiscal year include the already-started Battlefield Parkway extension from the Dulles Greenway to Rt. 15; the pedestrian trail across the Rt. 15 bypass and Battlefield Parkway; and the airport self-fueling facility, which is paid through a partnership with ProJet Aviation and state grant funding.
Finally, the proposed budget includes $24.6 million for the utility fund, a 16.6 percent increase.
Dentler has proposed a budget schedule, which council members agreed to during Monday night’s work session.
A budget public hearing is planned for Tuesday, March 14, at 7 p.m., and the tax rate public hearing is eyed for the same night as the budget adoption, Tuesday, April 4, during a special meeting. Meetings are held in Town Hall Council Chambers.