What’s in the Budget?

Supervisors have wrapped up straw poll votes, and unless unforeseen changes are made before their formal adoption vote Tuesday, Loudoun has its fiscal year 2018 budget in hand.

The Board of Supervisors is set to adopt a real estate tax rate of $1.125 per $100 of assessed value, a 2-cent tax cut from this year. At the same time, the county’s operating budget grew by $126.7 million, or 7.9 percent, over last year, to $1.728 billion.

That means the annual tax bill for a home assessed at $400,000 will be $80 lower at the new rate.

County leaders have attributed the revenue growth in large part to surging business investment and commercial taxes. County Administrator Tim Hemstreet noted that growth in computer equipment tax revenues alone has brought in more than $154 million, an increase of 15 percent over last year, mostly thanks to the continuing data centers boom.

So what does that buy?

The Schools’ Budget

Supervisors will send the public schools 7.65 percent more in local tax funding than last year, $5.5 million less than the School Board asked for.

The $5.5 million cut was the largest part of a $7.6 million budget reduction needed to bring the real estate tax rate down another penny. Supervisors had been working from a $1.135 tax rate, a 1-cent tax rate below this year.

The board’s three Democrats, County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) and supervisors Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg) and Koran T. Saines (D-Sterling) voted against the school funding reduction.

That brought the county’s total transfer to the schools to $748 million. The total schools’ budget—counting some funding for school buses, which will come from the county’s capital budget instead of from the schools’ budget to allow some financing flexibility—comes to $1.119 billion, 99.51 percent of its $1.124 billion request, and 88.5 percent higher than the current year.

The budget for the county’s school system is a contentious issue almost every year.

Some supervisors have cast the county board’s budget direction as a historic increase for the schools’ budget. Supervisor Ron A. Meyer Jr. (R-Broad Run) said he was “disappointed” in how the budget was covered in the press.

Supervisor Ron A. Meyer Jr. (R-Broad Run) records a video update immediately after straw poll voting finished. (Renss Greene/Loudoun Now)

“We’ve gotten some praise from some folks saying this is one of the smoothest budget years that they can remember, and I agree,” Meyer said. “It’s nice when you can deliver the second highest increase in more than a decade to the school system while also giving some slight relief to the taxpayers.”

“What we received from the schools is not a budget, it is a request, and they are very different things, because a budget has fiscal restraint,” said Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles). “What we received from the schools is, if we could have everything we would like to have, here’s what it would cost.”

“The schools got 99.9 percent of their request, the biggest increase in years, way above their growth, and we cut taxes,” Buona said. “How often can you say you did all that in one budget?”

But other supervisors defended the school system’s request.

“Over the last five years, we have seen cuts in the requested school budget of over $117 million, and when you have significant cuts like that over a period of five years, you need to start fully funding a school budget to make up some of the ground lost,” said Supervisor Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg).

“It’s who said potato or po-tah-to,” summarized Supervisor Suzanne M. Volpe (R-Algonkian).

[Get a detailed look: The Schools’ Budget, by the Numbers]

More County Employees, Services

This year’s budget represents a major investment in county government staff. Department heads have complained for years that their workforce had not increased alongside Loudoun’s population, in large part because of sagging recession-era revenues coinciding with meteoric population growth.

County Administrator Tim Hemstreet proposed adding 188.67 full-time equivalent employees, a budgeting term used to track the equivalent number of full-time positions among a staff of full- and part-time positions. Supervisors then tacked on another 23.86 FTEs, for a total of 212.53 FTEs.

These positions increase the county workforce, not including schools, by about 6 percent, from the current year’s 3,827.22 FTEs.

The biggest increases were in the Departments of Fire, Rescue, and Emergency Management; Parks, Recreation and Community Service; and Library Services.

Parks and Recreation alone absorbed new 63.9 FTEs, all for the expanding Dulles South Multipurpose Center. That center will soon open its recreation and senior centers. The first will include an aquatics center, fitness rooms, a running track, and gymnasium; the senior center will host social events, recreational programs, trips, and fitness classes, and will also serve as a distribution point for the Congregate Meal Program and the Home Delivered Meal Program. That center will also mean a new position in Human Resources and three more in the Department of General Services to keep up with its staffing and maintenance needs.

The Fire and Rescue department will add 40.27 FTEs to man the new Kirkpatrick Farms station when it opens. It will also bring in two new inspectors in the Fire Marshal’s office, additional dispatchers, and training academy staff.

The third big-ticket item is the Brambleton Library, which will need 34.56 FTEs to staff. When it opens, the Brambleton Library will be the 10th branch of the Loudoun County Public Library.

The remaining 66 FTEs come mostly in the form of one or two additions to one of the county’s 30 departments and constitutional offices. They include funding to keep open the Crisis Intervention Team Assessment Center, a partnership between the Sheriff’s Office and the Department of Mental Health, Substance Abuse and Developmental Services; additional staffing for both adult and child protective services; and a variety of other positions like a civil engineer for the Department of Transportation and Capital Infrastructure, a recruiter for Human Resources, and a budget analyst for Management and Budget.

None of those, of course, include the largest single employer in the county—the school system.

“We finally, after many years, are starting to catch up, seriously catch up, to critical needs on the county side of the government,” Buona said. “We have been pouring so much money into our schools over the last few years that the county was still running at recession-level staffing.”

The Board of Supervisors is expected to take an official vote on the budget and tax rate Tuesday.

rgreene@loudounnow.com
@RenssGreene

6 thoughts on “What’s in the Budget?

  • 2017-03-29 at 12:40 pm
    Permalink

    “What we received from the schools is not a budget, it is a request, and they are very different things, because a budget has fiscal restraint,” said Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles).

    Thank you for for the chuckle of the day, Sup. Letourneau. That is very true and, in my opinion, this quote is an instant classic.

    “growth in computer equipment tax revenues alone has brought in more than $154 million, an increase of 15 percent over last year, mostly thanks to the continuing data centers boom.”

    Wow. That’s a real eye-opener of a statistic. That is some serious revenue from a single line item.

  • 2017-03-29 at 3:20 pm
    Permalink

    Agree on Letourneau’s and Meyer’s remarks. For Umstattd or Randall to say the schools haven’t been “fully funded” is like saying a parent didn’t fully fund their child’s college education because the parent refused to provide a Ferrari for the child to get to classes.

    Year after year, a wish list is presented. It’s to the point that Fairfax has to justify raising its salaries because Loudoun has surpassed them (not to mention being $20K/yr more than the Virginia Beach region). For Hornberger, Turgeon and Morse, all of whom benefit directly from their LCPS spouses bringing home a bigger paycheck, I’m sure they would like to pay LCPS teachers more than Manhattan teachers. Hopefully, the FY19 budget holds a lot tighter line than the FY18 one. We should not provide largesse to LCPS simply because more datacenters come to Loudoun. Return the real estate taxes to the residents of Loudoun.

  • 2017-04-05 at 7:09 am
    Permalink

    Residential tax bills are based on the accuracy of the assessments. There is a need for improvement on this. How many of us have seen hugh improvements on someone’s property with permits but it now reflected in the tax bill two or three years later? The second issue is the accountability of the distribution of those “excess funds” Seems to me that public gets very little notification of request and approval of those funds. It is a hugh amount of money being used but not accounted for until the last moment. Budget adjustments for department request need to be publically vetted not in the weekly notice of what happening in today’s meeting.
    Ms. Randell, sorry but Volpe is running the counties future right now. Has been for years just quietly doin so.

Leave a Reply