‘A New Low Point’: Criticism Mounts as Leesburg Budget Process Drags

Although there are few controversial items in Leesburg Town Manager Kaj Dentler’s proposed fiscal year 2017 budget, review of the document has been anything but smooth sailing for the Leesburg Town Council.

As the Board of Supervisors was set to adopt its budget this week (See story, Page 5) and with the School Board endorsing its budget months ago, the Town Council has yet to put forward one straw vote so far this budget season, and seems likely to continue work on the budget and tax rate postponed until the end of April.

Town Manager Kaj Dentler presented his $94 million fiscal year 2017 budget on Feb. 23. The town operates with a biannual budget and this year’s spending plan is considered a “budget by exception,” with much of the fiscal picture and plan laid out last year. The proposed budget is a 4 percent decrease from the current fiscal year’s budget.

Last week, council members had two opportunities—at their regularly scheduled March 28 council work session and a special meeting called by Mayor David Butler three nights later—to put forward straw votes or make their budget priorities known. While many at the work session said they were not yet prepared to offer motions to add or remove items from the budget, not much changed on March 31, when the budget special meeting adjourned after just 18 minutes.

Although no straw votes were made, a few council members did share their priorities prior to the special meeting’s adjournment. Butler stated his preference for the proposed tax rate of 18.72 cents per $100 of assessed value, an increase from 18.3 cents. Vice Mayor Kelly Burk and Councilwoman Katie Hammler said they supported a proposed project by the Environmental Advisory Commission to install meters to monitor energy consumption at six town-owned buildings that use the most electricity. But Hammler said to support that project—which would add $55,000 to the spending plan—she wanted to find something of that same value to delete from the budget. One adjustment Hammler put forward was capping the proposed employee pay-for-performance raises at 3 percent, something Butler said he did not favor.

For council members, patience with the budget process, and at times with each other, was clearly wearing thin as this week dawned.

Butler said it was “unfortunate” that some council members did not seem to be prepared to ask questions or offer feedback at any of the budget work sessions thus far.

Burk made her displeasure with the process clear, taking to social media following last Thursday’s meeting and calling the special meeting “a new low point” for the council.

“We have had part of February, and all of March to look over the budget and ask questions, determine programs we liked and did not like,” she wrote.

She called out council members Bruce Gemmill, Tom Dunn, Hammler and Suzanne Fox—the four council members who voted to adjourn the special meeting—for not being prepared for that session, as well as the March 28 council work session that preceded it.

“These four members’ lack of preparation, decisiveness, and honest discussion is stunningly irresponsible,” she wrote.

Councilman Marty Martinez, who was not present at last Thursday’s special meeting, said the whole budget process thus far has been “backwards.”

“This is supposed to be the second year of a two-year budget. The plan was to go over additions Kaj had made and to make sure we were OK with them; if not, we could edit those,” he said. “Some council members have taken this opportunity to go over the whole budget and attack people.”


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