Mother Nature threw a little bit of a wrench into plans for budget review in Leesburg this week, but council members made the most of the two occasions for scrutiny they did.
Monday’s night snowstorm derailed plans for the council’s first discussion of Town Manager Kaj Dentler’s proposal to join the national Main Street program. A Main Street representative from Winchester was scheduled to speak to the council about the program, but was unable to attend.
Dentler is proposing that the Town Council consider a comprehensive and community-wide discussion as to whether the town should apply to be a member of the National Main Street program. This would require the formation of a nonprofit that would oversee many of the functions downtown – from aesthetic appeal to event promotion to business outreach. It’s an idea that has been discussed by former town councils and downtown groups many times, although it has never come to a formal vote. The Main Street program will be one of the focuses of the Tuesday, March 21, budget work sessions.
But the council did touch on some of the other major enhancements proposed by Dentler, including the addition of five staff positions—three in public works, one in parks maintenance, and the other the addition of a second zoning inspector. Dentler told council members during his Feb. 28 budget presentation that, while the town’s lane miles and population have almost doubled since 2000, the number of public works staffers has remained flat at 27. These positions, Public Works and Capital Projects Department Director Renee LaFollette emphasized, are not just the ones seen picking up brush and leaves and clearing streets, but ones that tend to aging infrastructure throughout the town.
“While we’re maintaining what you can see there are a lot of things we can’t get to,” she said, pointing to fixing trip hazards in sidewalks, and maintaining storm water ponds and catch basins as examples. The current staff is not able to keep up with all these projects, LaFollette said. Even leaf pickup in the fall, a service town residents have come to expect and consistently laud, is rarely able to make it to each street on a weekly basis. It is usually eight to 10 days on average, Dentler said.
The two other positions proposed by Dentler also have to do with keeping up with growth, he said. And it was a point not lost on some council members.
“We have to realize that we are growing,” Mayor Kelly Burk said. “With these new developments that have been approved we’re going to be adding lane miles and houses. We are going to have to realize this is going to require staff. We’re going to have to do things different and think in the future.”
Thinking in future terms was a point also raised by Councilman Ron Campbell, who suggested Dentler and the council consider allocations each budget year for enhancements to keep up with future town needs.
Council members also offered opinions on Dentler’s proposed $18,000 proposal to produce town newsletters. While council members concurred that providing better outreach to town residents is a good move, some questioned whether a newsletter was the best format for relaying such information. Both Vice Mayor Suzanne Fox and Councilman Marty Martinez suggested adding inserts to current town mail, like the Leesburg at Leisure publication or quarterly water bills.
Other enhancements proposed by Dentler include the addition of a new town event, Taste of Leesburg, at $50,000, although much of the cost is expected to be offset by event revenues; closed captioning for broadcasts of Town Council, Planning Commission, and Board of Architectural Review meetings; $40,000 to hire a consultant to aid in the revision of design guidelines for the H-2 Corridor; and $45,000 for the adoption of a town-wide strategic technology plan.
With two budget work sessions behind them—on March 8 the council reviewed the overall financial plan for the town as well as the six-year Capital Improvements Program—there are several opportunities for the council, and public, to weigh in on the proposed $107 million budget. The March 21 budget work session, which begins at 7:30 p.m., will focus on utilities and the Main Street proposal. A March 27 budget work session is planned to be a mark-up session. An April 4 special meeting will include a public hearing on the proposed 18.6-cent tax rate and budget and tax rate adoption is eyed for that night.
Complete details on the budget can be found online at leesburgva.gov/budget.