Supervisors spent all day together Friday to come up with the big ideas that will guide them through the rest of their four-year term.
Two big ideas—one new, one familiar—came out of that meeting. County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large), a career mental health professional and current chairwoman of the state Board of Corrections, said she wants to bring a separate drug dormitory to the jail, and drug courts back to the county. She said the county falls short on addressing drug addiction.
“I know exactly what we’re doing, and I know exactly what other places are doing,” Randall said. “Loudoun’s numbers are stark, and they’re going to get worse, because we’re not even doing a whole lot of prevention.”
The county eliminated its drug court in 2012, striking $284,408 from the fiscal year 2013 budget. At that time, the courts reported 13 people had participated in the drug court in 2011. Board Vice Chairman Supervisor Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) stood by his vote at that time to do away with the drug court, which he said at that time was producing very minimal results at great cost.
Randall argued that because people would only be ordered to Loudoun’s drug court after a probation violation, the intervention came too late. Instead, she said, addicts should be funneled to the drug court after arrest but before incarceration.
“If you wait until their second probation violation, it’s not a deterrent, because they’ve figured out they can do jail,” Randall said. Other supervisors were open to the idea, and Buona said if the drug court could be made to work, he could support it.
“The fact that there’s not a drug court in Loudoun is something that I’m not comfortable with,” said Supervisor Ron A. Meyer Jr. (R-Broad Run).
Randall also characterized a drug dorm—a separate dormitory in the jail for addicts, allowing for specialized treatment—as low-hanging fruit. She argued it would use mostly existing resources, including mental health and corrections employees the county already has.
“Truthfully, it’s nothing to get us there,” Randall said. “It’s a six-month goal.”
Both ideas, Randall said, are about shifting the county to focus on prevention.
“To me, it’s acknowledging that prevention and pre-action costs so much less than reaction when it comes to taking care of those people that have some of these needs,” Randall said. “How much money are we spending on a person in jail with mental health needs?”
Both programs would require agreement from Sheriff Mike Chapman.
The board’s finance committee has already begun preliminary discussions of next year’s budget with a look at the Department of Mental Health, Substance Abuse and Developmental Services.
“I hope we still use that opportunity to try to have that discussion a little bit, because whatever we do, it does have a budgetary impact for better or for worse,” said committee Chairman Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles). “So we have to start that guidance now if that’s what we’re going to do.”
Keeping Up with Loudoun
Buona’s suggested what could be a more fundamental change to how growth happens in Loudoun.
“I don’t know what exactly the solution is, but I think somewhere we’ve got to get some safety valves on the way growth is occurring,” Buona said.
Buona, the board’s ex-officio member of the county’s fiscal impact committee, said the county has already fallen behind keeping up with its growth in the past.
“The reason we’re at this road problem, and the other infrastructure problems, is because for ten years, the [capital improvement plan] couldn’t accommodate anything but schools,” Buona said. “And in my mind, I see we’re starting to go in that direction again.”
Loudoun has marked higher-than-anticipated school enrollment rates year after year, and the county currently plans to build three elementary schools, a middle school, and two high schools in the next few years, as well as spending money on classroom expansions and adding more modular classrooms.
“We have a huge infrastructure problem, right?” Letourneau agreed. “VDOT spent $110 million to widen Rt. 50, and it went from level of service F [VDOT’s lowest rating for a road] to level of service F. Congratulations!”
The problem, Buona said, is that the county’s current comprehensive plan has guidance for when the county will need new infrastructure, but no guarantee the county will actually be able to afford it. The solution, he said, may begin with figuring out the right mix of commercial and residential development for the county, and getting a comprehensive view of when new developments are opening to avoid sudden surges in development that overtax infrastructure.
“We need to understand what’s coming online when,” Buona said. “When we look at rezoning, we need to be able to say, there’s 1,000 houses coming online at this time, what else is coming online around there at about that time?”
In the meantime, said Planning and Zoning Director Ricky Barker, the county’s current comprehensive plan review does have an eye toward the fiscal impact of the county’s growth.
“One of the big principals in there is growth management and fiscal balance,” Barker said, “and we actually target consultants that have that experience.”