The Strength That is Loudoun County
State of the County Address – May 25, 2016
Chair Phyllis J. Randall Loudoun County Board of Supervisors
[Download the .pdf here: State of the County 2016]
Good evening, and thank you all for joining me for my first State of the County address. I also welcome those of you who are joining us via television; it was especially important to me that this speech was made available to all county residents. I want to thank my family, my fellow Board members, and staff for joining me tonight.
I’ve always believed that government at all levels belongs to the people. Because local government is closest to the people, I feel it is vital to come before you to offer a status report and summary on the state of your local government. While I won’t, in one speech, be able to address every area of our county government, it is my intention to discuss some of our larger projects, most pressing issues, and most notable achievements. In addition, I will share my insights and vision for Loudoun County.
The 2016 to 2019 corporate body took the dais on January 6th and immediately got to work for the county that we all choose to serve. In just the four months we have sat at the dais as a corporate body, this Board has had many accomplishments about which we are proud.
- At our very first business meeting and for the first time since 2006, we amended our fiscal policy to increase by 25 million dollars the amount of new debt that may be issued to finance our growing need for schools and county capital projects;
- We gave our County Administrator, Tim Hemstreet, budget guidance for the upcoming budget season; and
- We decided the makeup of each of our standing committees.
- This board unanimously passed an ethics pledge; and
- We completed a budget cycle that resulted in the passing of an operations budget of 1.6 billion dollars and a six-year capital improvement budget of 1.8 billion dollars.
- During the budget process we moved the county from a pay- for-performance system to a merit pay system—a more efficient method for recognizing the hard work of employees.
- We also enhanced benefits for those who work in hazardous duty positions by increasing the Virginia Retirement System benefit to 1.85 percent, which aligns with neighboring counties.
- Last month, members of this Board traveled to New York to meet with all three major credit rating agencies regarding our finances.
- This past Friday, I returned from what can only be categorized as a very successful economic development trip to Asia that is sure to yield positive results for our county in the future.
The future of Loudoun is contingent upon good planning. Good transportation planning is one component of our vision. Early in our term, the Board asked the Department of Planning and Zoning staff to prepare a Comprehensive Plan Charter, an effort that is led by Planning and Zoning Director Ricky Barker.
The Comprehensive Plan outlines specific steps that need to be taken to develop a new vision for land use, for new development, and for revitalization in our County. We are aware that for many years Loudoun has been one of the fastest, or the fastest, growing counties in the country. Our growth, although at times inevitable, has resulted in increased traffic, overcrowded schools, and many other issues that are expected in a county that added over 250,000 people since 1990. At this time, this body has not approved a single rezoning application—or for that matter—even a single home; however, we know there are 29,892 housing units as of January 2016 that have yet to be built, but that have already been approved. Thus, it is vitally important that a new Comprehensive Plan is developed to ensure economic growth opportunities, housing diversity, and revenue-generating, mixed-use communities that attract young people to move to Loudoun and retirees to remain in Loudoun. In addition, we need to put in place policies that protect our rural west from overdevelopment or commercial encroachment.
In addressing our county’s Comprehensive Plan, we began the process of pulling together a Stakeholders Committee of residents that also includes representatives from various community groups and organizations. So Loudoun, the important task of creating a new Comprehensive Plan is now underway. And what I feel is most important is the fact that the Board of Supervisors and staff have committed to having robust community involvement and information- sharing regarding the rewriting of the countywide Comprehensive Plan. This involvement will include:
- The ability to speak through the citizen representatives on the stakeholders group;
- The ability to follow the progress of the Comprehensive Plan online; and
- The ability to engage in the process through multiple interactive public meetings to be held throughout Loudoun.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.
In addition, we will put in place a technical advisory committee to provide data and analysis to help develop land use policies for the Comprehensive Plan. One of the organizations that will be represented on the advisory committee will be Loudoun Water. In 1959, the County of Loudoun established Loudoun Water as the public water and sewer authority. The water authority does not use tax money and is funded solely by its customers. In 2016, Loudoun Water began offering the Broad Run Reclamation program that delivered more than 241-million hallons of reclaimed water to its customers and helped to save an equal amount of drinking water. Going forward, experts at Loudoun Water believe our county may require up to 90-million gallons of water per day by the year 2040. That’s an increase of 40-million gallons per day. So you see Loudoun, receiving correct technical advice is imperative because crafting our countywide Comprehensive Plan is one of the most important initiatives this board will take up.
Equally important as the Comprehensive Plan, is the strength of Loudoun’s fiscal health. I am pleased to inform you that Loudoun is not just financially solvent, we are indeed thriving. Since 2005, the county has enjoyed a triple-A credit rating and we have every reason to expect that our excellent credit rating and strong financial policies will continue to serve us well as we continue to grow Loudoun’s workforce, and continue serving our citizens. Presently, Loudoun employs:
- 3,011 full-time employees;
- 386 part-time employees; and
- 3,017 temporary employees.
- Combined, Loudoun County employs nearly 6,500 people.
During this year’s budget process we were able to increase staffing levels to better serve Loudoun’s more than 370,000 residents. As a county, we will continue to address a higher-than-desired employee turnover rate of 11.1 percent. But, we are working to make Loudoun the region’s premiere county to work in; to that end, we understand that the effective delivery of county services requires a strong workforce that receives a competitive salary and benefits, as well as a positive work environment.
In Loudoun, we are fortunate to have a Department of General Services, headed by Ernie Brown, that ensures our facilities and grounds are well kept and clean. However, despite General Services’ best efforts to keep our facilities up to par, we cannot deny that Loudoun is outgrowing many of its county buildings. In the coming years, you should expect the leasing or building of new county office spaces. The quality of work of every county employee impacts every citizen in Loudoun. We understand the reality that we face: no county can grow as fast as Loudoun has without increasing the workspace that is required to meet the needs of the community. I believe that happy employees equate to better services, which is why I was pleased that based on Loudoun’s low unemployment rate, high life expectancy, and other factors that speak to a high quality of life, Smart Assets Magazine recently named Loudoun the happiest county in America.
Having lived in our marvelous county for 23 years, I agree that for so many of us, Loudoun is, in fact, an ideal place to buy a home, raise a family, and hopefully even enjoy your retirement.
There is no doubt Loudoun is a county that is thriving—making its mark on the national, and even international, stage. However, it is equally clear that the success story that is Loudoun is not enjoyed or felt by all of Loudoun’s residents. In Loudoun, we have not just pockets, but entire communities of people who don’t feel heard, seen, or valued.
One of these citizens was Mr. Corey Cox. Shortly after the incident in which one of our students was shot to death on his way to school, Mr. Saines and I were holding a campaign event in Sterling. In the door walked this passionate young man who came up to me and said, “Ms. Randall, my name is Corey Cox and I want to help.” Corey went on to tell me in great detail how he felt his community had been overlooked by our county, his words to me were: “we’re being ignored out here, and people are dying.” I was so moved and impressed with Corey after talking to him I said, “Corey, I’ll make you a deal; if I get elected I will make you my appointee to the Advisory Commission on Youth. You say you want to make a difference, here is your chance.” I had planned to contact Corey after I was elected; however, I didn’t need to. The day after my election, Corey contacted me asking where he should send his information. I kept Corey’s text to me, which, in part, read, “Ms. Randall, I will spend a lot of time in the position granted me. I thank you for the chance, but this is just the first step. Watch what I do in this world.” Ladies and gentleman, I’d like you to meet my first appointment made after my election. Mr. Cox is with us and he brought his mom.
What Corey teaches us is that people in Loudoun want to be involved, they want to participate in our County. 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. Loudoun, I challenge you in this room as well as all who are listening to find a way to participate in your community. Whether you read to a group of children, clean up a road, or serve on one of our many commissions or boards, find a way to give back. Loudoun, although your local government is effective when working for you, we are so much stronger when working with you.
But to remain strong, we must recognize the challenges that we face and identify ways to turn those challenges into opportunities.
As many of you know, I am a mental health therapist by profession. I recognize that because we have grown so fast, we have work to do to strengthen Loudoun’s social safety net, which includes not only healthcare, but also our wellbeing.
Take our Department of Mental Health, Substance Abuse and Developmental Services, for example. Directed by Margaret Graham, with guidance from our Community Services Board—or CSB—last year, this agency served a total of 4,708 unduplicated clients. Our mental health services include, but are not limited to:
- Substance Abuse Services;
- The Early Intervention Program for Infants and Toddlers;
- Emergency Services; and
- Prevention and Intervention, which includes school based programs.
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. In addition, they have to contend with the lack of available inpatient treatment programs to which they can refer clients.
Just as our Substance Abuse clients are increasing in numbers, so too are the number of people diagnosed as Seriously Mentally Ill (SMI) and people experiencing the challenging effects of traumatic stress. In addition, the serious medical needs of our aging population in our group homes and other residential programs require more frequent intensive nursing services. Our mental health staff are facing new challenges and are in need of more support from the county than ever before.
Historically, Loudoun’s mental health department has had a high number of vacant positions year after year—fluctuating from the mid- 40s to low 50s over the last three fiscal years—with a recent spike of vacant positions rising to 67. Clearly, this presents a serious barrier to effective program operation and service provision. Challenges with recruitment and retention are also barriers to meeting the demand for services. It has been difficult to recruit and retain qualified staff, due to a number of factors, including:
- Competition with surrounding jurisdictions; and
- Private industry.
A specific problem is retaining staff to serve the high proportion of bilingual county residents overall, and those seeking mental health services. This department has been unable to attract and keep sufficient numbers of qualified bilingual staff. It has had difficulty attracting licensed clinicians who, after becoming licensed while employed with Loudoun County, leave for higher-paying jobs elsewhere.
We can and we should support our mental health professionals with increased training opportunities and we should ensure that they have adequate staff to fulfill their needs to our community.
Also consider that often the county’s mental health referrals come from our Sheriff’s Office. Since the beginning of this year, our Sheriff’s Office responded to two domestic violence incidents that unfortunately resulted in the violent deaths of two women. Loudoun—on a regular basis our law enforcement community shows up. They respond, even knowing the risk to their own lives. During the past year, our first responders answered 268 domestic violence calls. For the first time this year, sheriff’s deputies administered Narcan to three people who, without their intervention, would have likely died of a heroin overdose. We are moving toward a time in the very near future in which every sheriff’s deputy will have Narcan on hand to use if needed. Yet even with our increasing population and the increasing demands of our sheriff’s deputies, Loudoun has experienced the lowest crime rate of any county in the Washington Metro Region. For this, we celebrate and thank our men and women in uniform.
Our first responders and human services employees work very hard to meet the needs of our residents, particularly those who do not feel seen by the county. But, we cannot do it alone.
Our partners in the community often bridge gaps in services and are vital resources for all of us. Loudoun’s nonprofit community, for example, fills in the gap for our most at risk and our most at need. While the nonprofit community has received support, it has also been sorely underfunded. In 2002, the per-capita giving amount to Loudoun’s nonprofits was less than four dollars for 22 nonprofits. In 2015, that amount dropped to less than three dollars for 35 nonprofits. Although the transfer of revenue from the county for nonprofits has been adjusted for inflation over the past four years, it has never been adjusted for population growth, thus leaving our nonprofits in need of additional resources and attention.
In an effort to bring more attention to Loudoun’s nonprofit community, I began an initiative that I’m calling “Voice for a Cause.” While it is true that the programs put in place by our nonprofits will never be vetted or voted on by the Board of Supervisors, we can still give them a voice. We can highlight the work of our nonprofit community and honestly, we should realize that they are filling a void that if left unaddressed, would lessen the quality of life in Loudoun.
It goes without saying that Loudoun’s outstanding way of life includes quality and strong public safety resources. I just mentioned one initiative in the Sheriff’s Office that is helping to save lives, and there are many more success stories in the Sheriff’s Office, and in our Department of Fire, Rescue, and Emergency Management, along with the many volunteers in the combined fire and rescue system.
Loudoun is proud to support eight-hundred (800) active and operational volunteer firefighters as well as four-hundred-forty-six (446) career employees. In addition, Loudoun’s Fire and Rescue answers, on average, eighty-two (82) calls per day. Chief Brower and his staff are correctly proud of their efforts in prevention and education; however, currently there is only one position focused in this area. Unfortunately, I must report our Loudoun firefighters are compensated at a significantly lower rate than their counterparts in the entire Washington Metro Region. Because of this, new firefighters who are trained in Loudoun often leave and take with them their training and potential. On behalf of a grateful county, I acknowledge and thank our firefighters for their remarkable commitment to our county.
At this time I ask:
- Sheriff Chapman;
- Assistant Chief Matthew Tobia, who is here tonight representingthe department; and
- All county first responders who are with us tonight, to stand andbe recognized.
One of our strongest, yet often unheralded departments, is the Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Services. Headed by Steve Torpy, Parks and Rec offers through our County After School Activities and Youth After School Program—also known as CASA and YAS—the most affordable after school programs in Loudoun County. Currently Loudoun’s CASA program serves one-thousand-nine- hundred-twenty-one (1,921) elementary-aged children at forty-four (44) locations throughout the county. This number fluctuates throughout the year with our highest number having occurred this past September when we were serving two-thousand-fifty-nine (2,059) children daily. The YAS program that focuses on middle school children is now serving three-hundred-forty-nine (349) youth at nine sites. In addition, Loudoun Parks and Rec runs a broad range of programs for seniors, maintains ball fields and interfaces with nonprofit groups, such as:
- The YMCA;
- Youth sports leagues;
- Special arts programs; and
- The Special Olympics.
On a daily basis, Steve and his staff focus on how to support and interact with agencies and organizations outside of the county sphere— in many ways, Parks and Rec staff are Loudoun County’s best ambassadors to county residents.
A great Parks and Rec department that serves the people in Loudoun County helps to make our community strong. We’re also made strong through relationships that attract people from outside Loudoun County. To that end, we are fortunate to work hand-in-hand with two entities that although not a part of our government, are vital to the fiscal health of our county.
The first of these partners, Visit Loudoun, is headed by the totally irrepressible Beth Erickson. Visit Loudoun is the tourism arm of our county. This past fiscal year, Ms. Erickson and her team reported state tax receipts in Loudoun County were about 40.9 million dollars. With innovative and unique endeavors such as the Ale Trail and Destination Wedding, Visit Loudoun is working to make Loudoun a desirable location for tourists of all ages and with varying interests.
And of course, Loudoun would not have the economic opportunities available to it were it not for the fact that the international airport for our nation’s capital sits in our county. Dulles International Airport allows Loudoun access to the world, and the world access to Loudoun. Dulles gives us the launching pad on which to build a truly diverse and world-class economy. Employing more than 22,000 people, Dulles is one of the county’s largest employers. On a typical day, Dulles averages more than 1,000 flight operations.
Although we would all like to see our domestic numbers increase, the airport’s international passenger traffic has significantly increased. Currently, Dulles has non-stop flights to:
- Tokyo, Japan;
- Munich, Germany;
- Paris, France; and
- London’s Heathrow Airport—that’s just a partial list of our non-stop international flights.
As many of you are aware, just last week I joined employees from Loudoun’s Department of Economic Development and Mark Treadway from the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority to sign a Sister Airport Agreement with Beijing Capital International Airport. This is just one example of how Loudoun County partners with Dulles Airport to ensure its success and to increase international ridership. In addition, because we import and export perishable goods, Dulles Airport is important—not only to Loudoun, but also to the Commonwealth of Virginia, and to the entire metro region. When we say “Dulles matters,” we mean it. Let there be no mistake, when I say I have every intention to protect Dulles Airport; I mean it.
As I mentioned earlier, I just flew out of Dulles for my trip to Asia with staff from a critical county department. I’ve mentioned a lot of county departments tonight; however, it is clear that over the past ten years, one outstanding strength in our county government has been the Department of Economic Development, headed by Walter Hollar Rizer, affectionately known to all of us as Buddy. Just this fiscal year, our economic development department has received commitments from 61 companies to either locate or expand in Loudoun County. These companies will bring a total investment amount of 2.1 billion dollars and over 2,100 jobs created or retained. Additionally, our economic development department has 133 qualified prospects logged in the pipeline with an estimated 3.4 billion in investment potential and 7,600 employment opportunities.
The big story in Loudoun’s economic development is its growing economic diversity. Of course we are both aware and grateful that Loudoun is the data center capital, not just of the country, but with 70 percent of all internet traffic flowing through Loudoun, the data center capital of the world. One of those data centers companies, Raging Wire—represented here tonight by Jim Leach—cut the ribbon on a new 140,000 square-foot building. We value our data center business and continue to welcome data centers who wish to locate in Loudoun.
Equally important, Loudoun is venturing into new business areas and welcoming new companies. One of these companies, Hanley Energy—an 80 year old Irish company that specializes in customization of energy management tools—cut the ribbon on its new Ashburn facility in March of this year. In order to meet their customer’s deadline, Hanley needed to move into their space in record time. Working with the Department of Building and Development, which is directed by Mike Siegfried, our economic development department was able to fast-track permitting and enable Hanley to move in and begin generating revenue in record time. Robert Duffy, who represents Hanley, is with us this evening.
Hanley is one of Loudoun’s wins—one of many in a growing and increasingly diverse group of companies we’ve welcomed to Loudoun. The list includes, but is not limited to:
- Hydro Systems USA;
- Brickyard; and
Airbus agreed to make Loudoun its home to the largest parts and distribution center in the world. Airbus is represented here by Rene Torry.
Will Jim Leach, Robert Duffy and Rene Torry please stand so we can thank you for locating in Loudoun.
Loudoun, we can only build on these success stories to make us stronger. We are well positioned for a bright and strong future. The arrival of Metrorail in Loudoun, for example, will connect us to the region in a new way and provide us with many new opportunities. Working with staff, this Board, and I as your chair, will continue to work on your behalf to make Loudoun a great place to live, work, learn, and play.
- With the sound management of your tax dollars and a responsible total budget of 2.5 billion dollars;
- With committed first responders;
- With an excellent school system and teachers and staff who areabsolutely dedicated to the educational success of Loudounstudents;
- With county partners such as Visit Loudoun and DullesInternational Airport;
- With some of the best economic development staff in the region;
- With a county workforce that on a regular basis is willing to go beyond the call of duty for Loudoun’s citizens;
- And most importantly, with residents like Corey Cox, who simply wish to make a difference where he lives—Loudoun, I can say with confidence that the State of Loudoun County is strong.
- We are strong and we are well positioned for the opportunities and challenges of the future.
- We are ready to welcome to Loudoun the Metro that will connect us to the region.
- We are ready to continue to grow and diversify our tax base.
- We are ready to welcome new citizens to Loudoun and newstudents to our schools.
- We are ready to welcome more partners, to work hand-in-handwith private business.
- We are ready and positioned to protect the interest of the residentswho live in our magnificent rural west.
- We are ready to support our first responders.
And most important, Loudoun: we are ready to welcome you, to welcome any and all residents, who want to take part in the success story that is Loudoun County.
Together we are ready and we are strong.