Shortly after voting to adopt an 18.6-cent real estate tax rate, a slight increase, for fiscal year 2017 Monday night, Leesburg Town Council members indicated where their preferences may lie for a final budget through a series of non-binding votes.
The council is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the proposed $94 million budget tonight, and all indications are that a final vote on the budget will follow.
Councilwoman Katie Hammler made the motion for a rate of 18.6-cent per $100 of assessed value, below Town Manager Kaj Dentler’s proposed 18.72-cent tax rate. Hammler’s proposal was to adopt the equalized tax rate, aimed at keeping tax bills level for homeowners on average. The current town tax rate is 18.3 cents.
In addition to the equalized tax rate, Dentler had proposed factoring for inflation by adding 0.12 cents. In his February budget presentation, Dentler noted that this was the first time that the proposed tax rate included an inflation factor. The approach, he said, would better account for operating costs.
Council members Marty Martinez and Tom Dunn voted against the tax rate Monday. Dunn offered an amendment to Hammler’s motion to go to a 17.75-cent tax rate, a proposal that was not accepted by Hammler.
The 18.6-cent tax rate will require an $82,000 reduction from the proposed $94 million budget.
The straw votes taken Monday night that garnered the support of at least three council members will likely be prominent points raised for discussion Tuesday night. Hammler was absent for the Monday straw votes.
Those with at least three votes were:
- a proposal by Vice Mayor Kelly Burk to end the town’s lease of Olde Izaak Walton Park. The town is about halfway through a 30-year lease it signed with the park’s owner. While the revenue it generates through Parks and Recreation Department programs in the park’s main building offsets all but $19,000 of the annual cost, taking into account taxes and utility fees, Burk said that the high cost of maintaining the park’s large pond, building and parking area is a concern. She said the dog park could be moved to Ida Lee Park, or elsewhere in town. In addition to Burk, council members Tom Dunn and Bruce Gemmill indicated support for ending the lease.
- a proposal by Gemmill to move the Economic Development Department and its two staff members out of the Mason Enterprise Center and into Town Hall. Gemmill suggested that the $22,000 the town pays to lease space in the incubator could be re-leased to other business tenants.
- a proposal by Burk to initiate an Environmental Advisory Commission recommendation to install electronic metering systems in the town government’s six highest-usage buildings to monitor energy consumption. While the program set-up costs would total around $50,000, commissioners report that typical programs soon net a municipality savings when opportunities for better energy efficiency are identified. Burk, along with Mayor David Butler and council members Marty Martinez and Suzanne Fox indicated support.
- a proposal by Butler to increase local funding for the road milling and paving budget by $200,000, as the state of Virginia is expected to slash the amount it gives to the town and other localities for road maintenance. Burk and Martinez joined Butler in support of that addition. But after the straw vote, Butler said he may not bring that up for a final vote Tuesday night given that it could keep council members from achieving the savings required to balance the budget with the 18.6-cent real estate tax rate.
The future of the Catoctin Skate Park expansion also was debated. Several straw votes were taken for different project scenarios. Gemmill, Fox and Dunn supported doing away with the skate park project, citing the escalating project costs. But there were four votes to move forward with plans to build a new Skate Park on a gravel lot near its current location on Catoctin Circle, a move that would allow the neighboring Loudoun County Volunteer Rescue Squad to expand. That move would cost an additional $150,000 in funding next year, which was part of the originally proposed project. Butler, Martinez, Burk and Dunn supported that vote.