The Leesburg Town Council on Tuesday night voted unanimously to adopt the FY 2017 budget with few changes.
While council members on Monday had debated a number of cuts —including dropping the town’s Olde Izaak Walton Park lease and changing plans for the skate park renovations, the final budget product is very close to the one initially presented by Town Manager Kaj Dentler in February.
The adopted budget has $55 million in General Fund spending and debt service payments; $1.7 million in the Capital Asset Replacement Fund; $13 million in the Capital Fund; and $21 million in the Utility Fund. The town also is anticipating $3.3 million in funding from the Northern Virginia Transit Authority to pay for transportation projects in Leesburg.
The total budget is a 4 percent decrease from the current fiscal year’s budget. It will be funded by a slightly higher real estate tax rate, but most residents’ bills aren’t expected to change much.
On Monday night, the council approved the equalized real estate tax rate of 18.6 cents, about 1.12 cents lower than Dentler’s proposed 18.72-cent rate that accounted for inflation. The current tax rate is 18.3 cents.
The final budget did not include any of the changes put forward for straw votes Monday night. That means the town’s lease at Olde Izaak Walton Park, and the dog park located there, will continue; the Economic Development Department staff will remain at the Mason Enterprise Center; and no additional funding was added for street milling and paving and no funding will be provided for the proposal by the Environmental Advisory Commission to monitor energy consumption in the town government’s six highest-usage buildings.
There was an unsuccessful motion made by Councilman Tom Dunn to move up funding for design of the Morven Park Road sidewalk project to FY17 by reducing the budget for the planned water feature at Mervin Jackson Park by 50 percent. Dunn also proposed capping the Catoctin Skate Park renovation project at its originally budgeted amount, which did not garner the necessary four votes. Council members Bruce Gemmill and Suzanne Fox also supported the proposal.
While spared from major changes, the skate park renovation project saw renewed debate this budget cycle, as the capital projects staff noted the cost has climbed to almost $1 million because of the need for soil remediation at the Catoctin Circle site. The neighboring Loudoun County Volunteer Rescue Squad is contributing $260,000 to the town to use towards the project—in exchange for the town donating for its expansion. The town is set to expend an additional $150,000 over what was initially envisioned. Councilwoman Katie Hammler won unanimous support in her motion to direct the town staff to seek private funding to help offset the increased cost.
Approval of the Capital Improvements Plan passed on a 6-1 vote, with Fox dissenting. Fox opposed it because of skate park project increase.
As the budget process drew to a close, there was obvious friction on the council dais, as several council members traded barbs criticizing colleagues’ preparation for the budget review and poor attendance at the meetings. Councilwoman Suzanne Fox said she was displeased by suggestions made both by fellow council members as well as in the media that council members were stalling the budget review.
“Passing a budget without scrutiny is government bureaucracy without oversight,” she said. “I’m a little bit discouraged that due diligence and responsibility is taken as a criticism.”
Hammler said things had “gotten political” on the council dais with some of the debate spurred by candidates postering for November’s election.
Dunn drew attention during Tuesday’s meeting to areas in the budget where he thought excessive funding was requested or over-budgeted, and criticized the amount of money set aside as Undesignated Fund Balance. But he noted in his vote to support budget approval that he was voting to approve the budget so others could not say he didn’t support certain town programs or departments.
“There are those people who want to then put out flyers and say their lies. They won’t be able to say that about Tom Dunn this year,” he said. “I’m going to vote for the waste the rest of the council is willing to vote for.”
Mayor David Butler also noted there was “a certain bumpiness” to the FY17 budget deliberations. But he remarked that this budget process ended up being no different than other years in terms of timeline, with the council, as in past years, adopting the budget and tax rate by mid-April.