Supervisors Balk at ‘City of Leesburg’ Proposal

By Danielle Nadler & Renss Greene

One week before this year’s General Assembly session begins, feathers already are being ruffled over a bill that would allow the Town of Leesburg to become an independent city.

Following a years-long request from Leesburg Town Council members, Del. J. Randall Minchew (R-10) submitted legislation that would permit Virginia’s largest town, at more than 47,000 people, to transition to city status if it so desired.

If Leesburg were to become a city, it would act as a separate entity from the county. Generally, city residents would not pay county taxes or receive county services.

For several years, Town Council members have wanted to study the financial impact of becoming the City of Leesburg, but a state moratorium blocks towns with populations more than 40,000 from receiving city charters. Minchew’s bill, HB 192, would grant an exception to that moratorium.

“They didn’t want to spend all this time and money studying the possibility if there was no legislative vehicle to allow them to become a city,” Minchew said in an interview Wednesday.

Loudoun supervisors made their consternation at the idea of a City of Leesburg known at the first meeting of their term Wednesday. Leesburg is Loudoun’s county seat, and Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) said an independent Leesburg would cause the county to look differently at county projects within the town, including the planned courthouse expansion.

“If they want to be be their own entity … then we have to rethink the county assets that we’re placing into the town, since it’s not us,” agreed Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn). “But here’s a bigger observation: I think the Town Council needs to do some back-of-the-envelope math and be careful what they’re asking for.”

Buona estimated education alone would cost Leesburg $130 million each year, well over the town’s annual budget.

“Most cities in the commonwealth are able to offer a lower tax rate to their residents than the double taxes that are currently paid by individuals who live in towns like Leesburg,” countered former Leesburg mayor and newly sworn-in Supervisor Kristen Umstattd (D-Leesburg). She has shown interest for several years in exploring the idea of transitioning the town to a city. “So my suspicion is that after a study period, then they will decide not to go forward with this, but they did want the opportunity to actually engage in a study.”

During the Town Council’s legislative dinner in November, the then-mayor said she and former Town Manager John Wells had made a trip to the City of Fairfax and were impressed with the model the city used, whereby it was able to contract out schools and social services funding and oversight to Fairfax County. The city boasts a lower tax rate and better services than Fairfax County, it was pointed out.

“It’s a model Leesburg should look at,” Umstattd said.

The Board of Supervisors did not vote on a position Wednesday, but Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) said it would appear on the next board meeting agenda.

Of his bill, Minchew, a Leesburg resident, explained that he only wanted to free up the Town Council to study the idea. But he stressed, “I’m not still not ready to support Leesburg becoming a city. I think Leesburg fits very well as part of Loudoun County, and being a city most certainly is a break away.”

Reporter Kara Clark Rodriguez contributed to this report.

4 thoughts on “Supervisors Balk at ‘City of Leesburg’ Proposal

  • 2016-01-07 at 2:06 pm

    Back of the envelope estimates in the past have ranged from “a wash” to 15-20% real estate tax reduction. With such a potential positive to our taxpayers, it seems prudent to at least study this to determine what the real answers might be.

    • 2016-01-09 at 10:16 pm

      Since my mother’s stroke in 1999 I’ve been paying her property taxes, trying to maintain her property, and build my own life in the county in which I was born. As a community, we tended the ball fields my friends and I played on, my to be high school raised private funds for lights, my elementary school raised funds to keep children of two communities as one. Meanwhile, on the otherside of Rt. 15 they’ve gotten parks, lights, community college upgrades, 98%+ of the sheriff’s attention, roads, numerous new schools, and I’ve been paying for it. Services I do not use, nor did my family hone constructed in 1848 require. I have 3/4 of an acre, legally I cannot put energy efficient windows and doors on my home. I have to scrape and repaint wood in an endless cycle to preserve a history that the BOS has only ever paid lip service to. I’m not eligible for land use, because the county only recognizes land use at ten acres and the county is above eminent domain as described by the constitution of the commonwealth and the nation…

      So, here’s the dig. Western Loudoun is sick of paying for the eastern 1/4. We’ve watched our neighbours, friends, and communities get taxed across the border. How about discussing and proposing that Sterling, Ashburn, South Riding, and whatever that “Dulles” thing is (bedside an airport) become towns? Maintain police, their parks, their sidewalks and contribute to their roads? Surely if the populations of Leesburg, Middleburg, and Purcellville can accomplish this, so can those locales.

      While we’re at it. How about a Massachusetts Compromise kind of thing for the BOS. All the old towns get a representative on a review board with veto power. Lincoln, the Philomont, Bluemont, Airmont, Hillsboro, Waterford, Lovettesville, Taylorstown, Round Hill, Ashburn, Leesburg, Aldie, Arcola, Middleburg, Drainsville, and Sugarland. Check the over pupulation in the east with the landmass out west. Shoot, we’re the ones struggling to hold on to our way of life.

      If I may call back to historic takings. Anyone with the money can get overlay guidelines tossed, because the County doesn’t recognize it’s obligation under eminent domain. We’ve seen it happen time and again. CEMENT OUR HISTORICAL STRUCTURES BY PROVIDING “HISTORICAL VALUE ADDED AND DETRACTED” to those landowners’ bills.

  • 2016-01-10 at 8:39 pm

    My summer “Leesburg Letter” explored the issue of “city status” and how town taxpayers are paying a lot for county projects and services but not getting the equivalent back (except perhaps schools and social services). That letter noted that town taxpayers give $75 million to the County, but this does not include business taxes. But the point is the town will get $75 million (at least) that the County is currently getting in revenue. But this would have to be “stretched” to pay for schools, fire safety, social services, possibly a commissioner of the revenue and treasurer, too. I dont know where the $130 million figure comes from, but Mr. Buona is usually right with his numbers, but that might include all the Leesburg area schools. Were Leesburg to establish its own school district, it would not need more than 2 high schools and 2 middle schools. But again, the town could just contract with Loudoun public schools as does Fairfax City, which is what it should do so town kids can continue with the same schools they attend now. Again, the Council needs to request this information, along with an estimate of what town taxpayers pay for debt on County projects, the cost of handling their own social services and the cost of a paid fire department (required to be a city). The only non transportation project in the county CIP is the courts complex and frankly, I hope some of my former colleagues do not use Rep. Minchew’s bill as an excuse to move the government center and abandon the current courts expansion. However, it seems kind of illogical of the Council to want a moratorium lifted in order to justify further study of city status. That’s like saying you wont pursue an advanced degree unless you have unlimited time to complete it. But to his credit, it was Dave Butler that got the ball rolling on city status starting with his unsuccessful campaign for Council in 2006.

  • 2016-01-11 at 6:29 pm

    As far as Loudoun County funding, it cannot be said enough, that Ken Reid was so disliked by his fellow republicans, that he could not get the time of day from them. Next, someone really should explain to Ken Reid that without the chance to do something, there really is no reason for the Town to spend any time looking into city status, if state law disallows any new cities. Somehow, Ken Reid seems incapable of understanding the basic fundamentals of things. Why? My guess is, that he is playing the continuous disruptor game he always plays, and his comment to this article is just another example of that. What Ken “I will run no more forever, until I run again” Reid really needs is for the voters of Leesburg to send him a strong message when he runs this November. Don’t vote for him, and tell him not to let the door hit him on the way out.

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