After weeks of preparation and three public hearings, Loudoun supervisors have begun taking straw poll votes to shape next year’s budget.
On Monday, the board reviewed spending requests by the school system, the sheriff’s office, the commonwealth’s attorney, and the departments of family services, community corrections, and mental health, substance abuse, and developmental services. During the four-hour meeting, supervisors added almost $1 million to County Administrator Tim Hemstreet’s proposed $2.5 billion budget.
Schools Get More Buses, 2 New Fields
In straw votes, supervisors added funding to purchase new buses and install artificial turf fields at Dominion and Heritage high schools as part of the fiscal year 2018 budget.
Much of the money comes from a $23.8 million surplus in the school system’s self-insurance fund. School administrators sought to retain the money in that fund, but Hemstreet noted that state code requires unspent money in the school budget to be returned to the county. And as board Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) pointed out, the county could simply reclaim the money.
Supervisors voted unanimously to set that fund’s reserve at 8 percent, roughly half of the 17.5 percent reserve the school system proposed by keeping the entire surplus, leaving $10.9 million in reserve. The county maintains an 8 percent reserve in its own self-insurance fund.
“A good part of this extra money is that $7 million of fund balance that we sent them in the first place,” said Buona, referring to an additional appropriation the School Board requested last year to make up an insurance fund deficit. “We could have done all four turf fields at the time, but instead we had to send $7 million to the schools because they mismanaged their insurance program.”
Supervisors voted 7-2 to give that fund an 8 percent reserve instead of 10 percent or higher, with County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) and Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) opposed. Randall argued that the schools have a younger, more volatile workforce more likely to have children and require higher insurance payouts.
The lower reserve allowed supervisors to allocate $3.8 million to the current year’s budget for turf fields at Dominion and Heritage high schools.
“Even if we were to say, ‘let’s do all four fields, and do them at one time,’ you would have the craziness of what do you do with all those sports teams,” Supervisor Suzanne M. Volpe (R-Algonkian) said. “It would be a mess. But more importantly, I don’t know if the industry that installs turf fields would have the bandwidth to try and get through four fields at one time.”
Although Supervisor Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin) had initially moved to fund all four fields in fiscal year 2018, supervisors voted unanimously to pay for two. New fields at Briar Woods and Freedom high schools, the last two schools without artificial turf, are planned for fiscal year 2019.
Supervisors also voted unanimously and with little discussion to send $4.3 million to next year’s budget for school buses, although Buona again criticized the schools for purchasing buses under their operating budget rather than treating them as a big-ticket capital expense. The School Board had requested $5.3 million for 36 buses and 20 light fleet vehicles.
$600K for Disabled Adults
Supervisors voted to allocate $600,000 of a requested $1 million to expand contracts with supported employment and day support organizations like Every Citizen Has Opportunities.
During all three budget public hearings, supervisors heard an outpouring of support for employment organizations like ECHO, which helps place disabled adults in jobs, at all three hearings—including several adults with disabilities and the businesses that employ them speaking from their own experiences.
“These folks perform valuable services at K2M and have become an important part of our company,” said David MacDonald, the company’s senior vice president of operations. “They look forward to coming to work each day and working side-by-side with our employees. The sense of self-sufficiency and self-worth these individuals gain as a result of our partnership goes a long way towards them becoming viable, contributing members of the Loudoun community.”
Although ECHO currently helps provide supported employment to more than 100 people with intellectual and physical disabilities, it has a waiting list of 28 people. Some of those, according to ECHO program coordinator Alice Morales, have been on the waiting list for two years.
Jennifer Alves, who works at Paxton Campus in Leesburg, said she is a person with a “hidden mental complication.”
“Today, I am a very independent adult, but I still need a little assistance,” Alves said. “Many children, youth, and adults full of potential in Loudoun County are losing out on life day after day, year after year, because the accommodations and assistance they need is not available.”
Peter Ippoliti, of Purcellville, said he has obsessive-compulsive disorder and Asperger’s syndrome. He said he has had a variety of jobs in his life. “Finding a job can be hard enough, but for someone with a disability, keeping a job can be even harder,” he said.
“I am very aware that I do not always meet the expectations of my employers,” Ippoliti said. “I know I get distracted easily, do not always work as quickly as others, and generally can be difficult to work with. Knowing this causes me a lot of stress and frustration because I give 100 percent every day.”
The Department of Mental Health, Substance Abuse, and Developmental Services requested $1 million to expand those contracts to clear out the waiting list and create opportunities for residents expected to age out of the schools’ programs next year.
Randall fell one vote short of fully funding the request. Her motion was supported by supervisors Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg), Tony R. Buffington Jr. (R-Blue Ridge), and Koran T. Saines (D-Sterling). Some supervisors questioned the sudden million-dollar expansion to contract services, and whether it was necessary to meet the need. Randall said the contract expansion was a moral obligation.
“The fact that so many families with significantly disabled adult children are forced to give up their own employment and sit home with these adults is a tragedy for a family, but it is also a huge negative for our society,” Umstattd said. “Both on the moral grounds that the chair mentioned, but also on economic grounds.”
Instead, supervisors voted unanimously to allocate $600,000 to expand the services. Supervisor Ron A. Meyer Jr. (R-Broad Run) said that money is “a huge win” for providers like ECHO. “I believe it’s a huge step forward, and maybe we can even add to it at the end of the day.”
Supervisors also approved $123,985 for a new manager in the department’s Job Link contract program, a position which provides management and oversight of the department’s employment and day support contract programs.
Full-time Veterans Services Coordinator
Supervisors voted unanimously to expand a part-time veterans services coordinator in the Department of Family Services to a full-time position. The position coordinates among veterans and services organizations, recruits volunteers, and conducts outreach. Umstattd said the position was requested by the veteran community.
“They do the fundraising, but they need someone to coordinate among veterans who are in need, whether it be someone to help with the rent, someone to help with food, someone to get them medical appointments, someone to help them get mental health services,” she said.
The position was originally established in the fiscal year 2016 budget. Since December 2015, according to the county, the position has served 117 clients with information and referrals, and the part-time position does not allow enough working hours to address the need.
“Back in 2015, that board at that time put this position into place for the first time feeling there was a need, but we didn’t make it permanent because we wanted to prove it that there’s a need,” said Buona, who served on that board. “And the numbers bear it out that there is a need.”
“This year, Mr. Buona and I are going to put our full force of our offices behind some of the vets’ programs that have not been funded in our county,” Randall said. “Unfortunately, I hear a lot of lip service to vets, but when they have a program to support vets, they’re almost unattended.”
Three members of the board, Umstattd, Buona, and Supervisor Tony R. Buffington Jr. (R-Blue Ridge), have served in the military.
The Totals So Far
Including $600,000 for day support and support employment contracts, $123,985 for a Job Link contract manager, $83,803 for a video systems coordinator at the sheriff’s office, $38,060 to convert the veterans services coordinator to a full-time position, and $121,241 for an additional domestic violence staff attorney in the office of the commonwealth’s attorney, supervisors approved $967,089 in spending above the county administrator’s proposed budget at their first work session. The actions leave $11,779 as an unallocated balance at the $1.135 real estate tax rate.
Supervisors have five more budget work sessions scheduled. The next one is Thursday, March 9, starting at 6 p.m.