Loudoun Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) said the county is strong, but pointed out shortfalls in mental health funding, county nonprofit support, and firefighter pay in a first-of-its-kind State of the County Address on Wednesday night.
“With the scourge of opiates and other equally harmful and deadly substances, our substance abuse staff has to work at peak capacity just to keep up with the growing demand,” said Randall, herself a mental health professional. “In addition, they have to contend with the lack of available inpatient treatment programs to which they can refer clients.”
She pointed out the high vacancy rates in county mental health positions, exacerbated by challenges with compensation and competition from surrounding jurisdictions and the private industry.
Randall also called on the county to provide more support for its nonprofits.
“Our partners in the community often bridge gaps in services and are vital resources for all of us,” Randall said. “Loudoun’s nonprofit community, for example, fills in the gap for our most at risk and our most at need.”
She said the county’s nonprofits are “sorely underfunded,” with giving down to less than three dollars per Loudoun resident across 35 nonprofits in 2015. She said that although county government has adjusted its giving for inflation, it has not adjusted for population growth.
Randall said Loudoun’s 446 career firefighters are paid much less than other D.C. Metro-area departments.
“Because of this, new firefighters who are trained in Loudoun often leave and take with them their training and potential,” Randall said.
“It’s not a recruitment problem; it’s a retention problem,” agreed Combined Fire-Rescue System Assistant Chief Matt Tobia after the speech. “We’ve always been very successful in recruitment.”
But Randall also took the opportunity to celebrate the county’s successes, focusing on economic development, outward-facing county departments, and the county’s locally-involved residents. She told the packed boardroom about a young man who walked into a campaign event Randall held with Supervisor Koran T. Saines (D-Sterling) before last fall’s election.
“In the door walked this passionate young man who came up to me and said, ‘Mrs. Randall, my name is Corey Cox and I want to help.'”
Randall recalled Cox told her “we’re being ignored out here, and people are dying.” After her election, she appointed Cox to the Advisory Commission on Youth.
“What Corey teaches us is that people in Loudoun want to be involved, they want to participate in our county,” Randall said. “Yes, it is up to them to reach out, but when they do, it is up to us to reach back, to see them, to hear them, to pull them in.”
Randall celebrated the work done by the county’s law enforcement and first responders, its Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Services staff, and nongovernmental organizations such as Visit Loudoun, and Dulles Airport.
She encouraged Loudouners to get involved in this board’s largest project, a review of the county comprehensive plan, mentioning the community stakeholders group, online updates to work on the comprehensive plan, and plans for interactive public input meetings around the county.
“Please let it be known, this Board of Supervisors and this staff want to hear the opinions of residents as we take up the long and important task of rewriting our countywide Comprehensive Plan,” Randall said.
Introducing the speech, Supervisor Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin) said Randall’s work as chairwoman has been good for the board.
“She brings to this board, I think, a grace and a level of civility that we didn’t have last board,” Higgins said.
The event opened with a violin performance by Woodgrove High School senior Jordan Bartel, brother of Ryan Bartrel, whose death in 2014 prompted the creation of the Ryan Bartel Foundation, which seeks to reduce teenage suicide.
“Loudoun, we can only build on these success stories to make us stronger,” Randall said. “We are well positioned for a bright and strong future.”