Editorial: The Golden Year            

Members of the Board of Supervisors were handed their golden-year budget last week by County Administrator Tim Hemstreet. It won’t get any better than this.

The third year of every board’s term represents the best opportunity to put their stamp on county operations. They’ve worked together long enough to know what’s coming and what needs to be done. And they still have a few months before pre-election politicking turns the focus of some members from the job of running the government to boosting their own partisan fortunes. That window closes quickly.

It is rare that supervisors arrive at this point in their terms with such a flush budget placed in their hands. The debate of county leaders this year will be less about which tough cuts to make and more about ensuring the available money is invested in areas that will have the most positive, long-term impact. Still there will be tough choices.

The merits of steering money into long-marginalized mental health and social service support programs have become more evident amid the rise of ruinous—too often fatal—opioid abuse, and domestic clashes that also have turned deadly with disturbing frequency. These services feel the first cuts in bad economic times and are the slowest to be restored when finances brighten. It’s a constituency easily ignored.

Even if supervisors move forward the proposal to leave the School Board’s requested increase in local tax funding $10.8 million short next year, there is still a substantial increase in the school’s overall $1.2 billion spending plan. That includes a substantial community investment in the long-planned Academies of Loudoun campus, which is intended to boost the academic and career aspirations of Loudoun’s brightest starting next year. It’s an important initiative, and continued involvement by county supervisors and business leaders will be vital to ensure the long-promised benefits are realized.

There are other priorities, including the effort to revamp the employee compensation program to attract and retain the staff members needed to adequately protect and serve the community.

This year’s budget conversation should not be bogged down in debates over whether taxes bills should be decreased or increased $3 or $4 per month.

This board can have more impact than that.

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