Leesburg Council Narrows Budget Debate; Hears Winchester’s Main Street Story

Leesburg Town Council members Tuesday night offered a glimpse at what may be on the fiscal year 2018 budget chopping block, or at least candidates for further scrutiny.

By the end of their budget mark-up session, the six council members in attendance had identified a baker’s dozen list of items targeted for further discussion during their next work session Monday night. Councilman Marty Martinez was absent for Tuesday’s meeting.

The items up for further discussion are not necessarily an indication of support for addition, reduction, or ultimate deletion, just that there is a need to further vet the details and to determine if they are worthy of inclusion in next year’s budget.

The discussion list includes:

  • the lease agreement for the Mason Enterprise Center business incubator;
  • the merits of the Leesburg Listens section of the town website;
  • whether to reduce the town’s contribution to Visit Loudoun;
  • the price of a downtown parking study;
  • whether to do away with funding the School Resource Officer positions in town schools;
  • the lease payment for Izaak Walton Park from the Crescent Parke developer;
  • whether to remove the downtown splash pad project from the Capital Improvements Program;
  • an Interchange Justification Report for the Edwards Ferry Road/Leesburg Bypass intersection in fiscal year 2021;
  • whether to accelerate construction of the airport’s north hangars project to fiscal year 2019;
  • whether to reduce the budget for the Standing Residential Traffic Committee;
  • whether to spend more on holiday decorations in the downtown area; and
  • whether to hire a consultant to guide the review of H2 design guidelines.

Further discussion of Leesburg’s participation in the national Main Street program will also be up for deliberation Monday. Last night, Jennifer Bell, the downtown manager for the City of Winchester, presented an overview on how the program has helped that community.

Winchester’s Main Street program is celebrating its 30th anniversary, and has attracted $125 million in private investment over that time. The program has had a focused strategy on attracting millennials to its downtown, which includes a bustling pedestrian mall area and a roster of regular events.

Compared with 2012, the amount spent in downtown restaurants alone has grown by $7 million. During that time, meals tax collection in the city has also doubled, she said.

Bell espoused the virtues of the Main Street program—she is also the former executive director of Salem, MA’s Main Street—and said it has given the city a solid framework and strategy to meet its goals, organized volunteers and engaged the citizenry, and the results have been at least $2 in private investment for every $1 spent in public funds. Winchester’s program is unusual in that it is run as part of the city government, and not as a nonprofit, Bell noted.

There was an effort by Councilman Tom Dunn to have the Main Street presentation taken off Tuesday’s agenda. As the meeting began, Dunn made a motion to have that agenda item deleted, saying a council majority already agreed it wasn’t interested in the program.

“The Town Council has already voted on setting a policy for Main Street that it is not going to be one of our policy items,” he said, referring to the council’s January retreat when the item was originally brought up but did not have majority support. “The town manager chose to go behind council to make this a policy item. It is the Town Council’s purview and privilege to set policy.”

Ultimately, only Dunn voted in favor of cancelling the presentation. He also made a motion to do away with the time limits set by Mayor Kelly Burk for council questions and discussion of budget line items. That motion deadlocked on a 3-3-1 vote, with Dunn, Vice Mayor Suzanne Fox, and Councilman Ken Reid voting in favor.

The Utility Fund was also up for review Tuesday night. It is an enterprise fund, meaning it includes user fees for water and sewer rates, fixed costs, and miscellaneous revenue, like from cell tower leases, but no town tax dollars.

The fund is proposed for a little more than 16 percent increase in fiscal year 2018, including debt service. The town staff is preparing for the next “fiscal cliff” for the fund in fiscal years 2020-2021 when debt service payments may dictate sharp rate increases. Clark Case, director of the town’s Administrative and Financial Services, has recommended the council establish a $150,000 contingency budget that could be tapped in the case of an emergency, like a water or sewer line going out of service or a sinkhole. That fund would include $50,000 for electrical engineer on-call services.

The department is also preparing for three studies to kick off next fiscal year. These include an update to the town’s 1987 Water and Sewer Master Plans, at $600,000; a new Water and Sewer Rate Study, to update the one done in 2014, at $100,000; and an electrical arc flash evaluation study, at $75,000. The budget also includes more than $600,000 to purchase new construction vehicles and equipment; new pumps and motors at both utility plants, at around $700,000; and $3.2 million in utility projects over the course of the next six-year Capital Improvements Program.

krodriguez@loudounnow.com

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