Leesburg Budget Public Hearing Focuses on Downtown Needs

Speakers during Tuesday night’s Leesburg budget public hearing focused largely on a need to fund initiatives in the downtown area.

One of the major additions in Town Manager Kaj Dentler’s fiscal year 2018 budget calls on the Town Council to consider setting funding aside for the formation of a nonprofit to be a part of the National Main Street program. The organization would oversee some of the major core functions of the downtown area—from aesthetics to event and business promotion to revitalization. It’s a topic that has been examined before by many councils going back decades, but never formally acted upon.

Leesburg Downtown Business Association President Gwen Pangle was one of those who spoke last night in favor of the council pursuing the Main Street program. She said council members needed to consider the program for what it would bring to the town—“a common sense, strategy-driven revitalization framework.”

“I think now is the right time, but it won’t work if the town, community, citizens, businesses aren’t behind it. I think we are now at a point where we have so much going on around us in Loudoun County. It’s much better for us to be a seat at the table than be on the menu,” she said.

Dieter Meyer, a former member of the Board of Architectural Review and one-time president of the now-inactive Downtown Improvements Association, also spoke in favor of Main Street and said the need for community-wide buy-in was important.

“It can’t just be a government program. It can’t just be private sector program. It has to be all those things together with the common goal of creating the best downtown we can have,” he said.

Downtown property owner Michael O’Connor said he believed that Leesburg now has “the right mix of management and leadership in this town where we can move to a direction being very positive.” He said a Main Street organization in Leesburg would be a great way for businesses and town residents to channel their ideas to the town’s leadership.

Joshua Thiel, who recently announced his intention to run for a council seat in November’s council special election, said in speaking with local business owners that many of them do not know exactly what a Main Street program would entail. He said he has done his own research on Main Street and spoken to leadership in Berryville and Manassas about their programs. A representative from Winchester’s Main Street program is scheduled to make a presentation during the council’s March 21 budget work session.

In addition to a push for the Main Street program, both Pangle and town resident Miriam Nasuti introduced the idea of finding room in the budget for another downtown initiative. Nasuti pointed to other municipalities who commission companies for holiday décor packages, where an outside vendor can come in and add decorative banners, garland, Christmas lights, and more, to glam up the downtown area for the holidays. Some cities and towns designate areas of a downtown to celebrate other December holidays, like Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, she said. Then, when the holidays have passed, the company comes and takes down the decorations and stores them until the following year.

“I think we can do better and I hope we do,” Nasuti said.

O’Connor and Mayor Kelly Burk also supported the idea of having a downtown parade to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

Town resident Mark Sell was the lone member of the public to raise objections to the proposed 18.6-cent real estate tax rate. The proposed tax rate is the same that was adopted in fiscal year 2017, and Dentler is said he is hoping to hold the tax rate level in future years, too. Sell encouraged the council to instead adopt a rate no higher than the equalized tax rate of 18.23 cents. A separate public hearing on the tax rate is planned April 4, when the budget and tax rate are expected to be adopted.

Those who were not able to attend Tuesday night’s budget public hearing will still have another opportunity to weigh in on the budget. Because of the inclement weather Tuesday, Burk did not close the public hearing, which will allow residents at the council’s March 28 business meeting to share their thoughts on the budget.

Next up for the Town Council is a March 21 budget work session that will focus on utilities and the Main Street funding. That meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. For more information about the budget, go to leesburgva.gov/budget.

krodriguez@loudounnow.com

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