Loudoun Board Already Looking to Next General Assembly Session

With the 2017 General Assembly session in the books, Loudoun supervisors and their lobbyists in Richmond are already looking ahead to next year.

That session will come after the November 2017 elections, when every member in the House of Delegates faces an election—which could mean a new face to the General Assembly. There are 16 candidates running for the seven delegates seats that serve portions of Loudoun. Virginia senators do not face another election until 2019.

In the past two years, Loudoun has had mixed success in the General Assembly. While some of the county government’s priorities—like a bill that speeds up transportation projects by exempting a public hearing requirement for utility easements, or another that allows more people to respond to opioid overdoses by administering naloxone—have found support, the state legislature has in other areas not passed Loudoun priorities or in fact enacted legislation that county supervisors and senior administrators see as a huge threat.

Loudoun, for example, had asked that the State Corporation Commission be allowed to approve toll rate hikes on the Dulles Greenway, rather than be required to; or that the county government be allowed to use a more competitive procurement processs to drive down the cost of public projects. Those efforts have fallen flat.

A Rough Two Years in Richmond

The state is still operating under legislation passed in 2016 that would have effectively eliminated the county’s ability to negotiate for proffers from developers, which the county relies upon to keep up with its infrastructure needs. Without an exemption added to the bill after its introduction for areas that have Metro stops, the county would no longer be able to request or accept most of the cash payments and construction by developers intended to offset the impact of new homes on the county’s roads, schools, and other resources.

The state has also stripped away one of the 20th Circuit Court judgeships, further burdening a court circuit already stretched thin, and according to County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large), effectively killing any hope of reestablishing a drug court in Loudoun. The drug court, which would help some people who violate drug laws avoid jail time by going through a closely-monitored treatment program, has found new support in the face of the ongoing opioid epidemic, but requires a big investment of time by law enforcement, social services, mental health professionals, and the justice system.

“You can’t tell us one the one hand you want all jurisdictions to have drug court, and on the other hand Richmond says they take our judge from us,” Randall said.

Girding for 2018

The county board is already getting ready for the 2018 session.

Loudoun’s representatives and lobbyists in Richmond held the line on proffers this year, with no changes to the 2016 law. Counties around the state have dealt with it in various ways, according to Jeff Gore of the firm Hefty, Wiley and Gore, which the county employs to represent its interests in Richmond.

“Some counties have stopped accepting cash proffers, and ones that rely on it fairly heavily,” Gore told supervisors on May 2. “James City County, for one, ended its program. Chesterfield County limited its proffers to transportation only.”

This year, the Virginia Coalition of High Growth Communities, a group of counties with population growth of more than five percent per decade, will be conducting a survey of counties like Loudoun to see how they have reacted to the proffer law.

            The state is also expecting an assessment of judiciary workloads from the National Center for State Courts before the next General Assembly session. After that report, Loudoun officials, lobbyists, and representatives will be talking with the governor’s office about finding a place to restore Loudoun’s fourth Circuit Court judge in the 2018-2020 biennial state budget.

            Randall and board Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) said starting early and meeting with legislators during the session will be crucial.

“That was a really nasty blow we were dealt by the General Assembly where they took our funding for our fourth judge away,” Buona said. “Now our court system is way overburdened.”

County leaders are also wary about the revisions to the state fire code and the Commonwealth Transportation Board’s revenue sharing policy.

Fire officials have managed to slow down a review of the State Fire Prevention Code that they said would hobble the fire marshal’s ability to enforce fire safety rules. Firefighting professionals represent a small minority on the committee that is revising that code.

And the Commonwealth Transportation Board is studying whether it wants to make changes to its revenue sharing guidelines. For the past five years, Loudoun has received $10 million every year for transportation projects. So far, a committee at the transportation board is recommending the state cap the maximum allocation to any one locality at half that, $5 million.

“The recommendations for this next year are not good for Loudoun County,” Buona said. “We need funds to match and leverage as we continue to build these roads, so I think that’s another very key priority for us.”

The Board of Supervisors will adopt a legislative program formally laying out its priorities and providing official guidance to its lobbyists before the 2018 session of the General Assembly.

 

rgreene@loudounnow.com

@RenssGreene

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