Just as it so often has in recent weeks and years, downtown Leesburg was again a core focus Tuesday night as the Leesburg Town Council deliberated on the final version of its fiscal year 2018 budget.
Whether to allocate the funding for a Main Street program was again at the center of debate Tuesday night. Much of the first hour of the meeting featured a dozen members of the local business community, many of whom had been a part of previous downtown initiatives, pleading with council members to re-think their stance on the program. At last week’s budget mark-up session, the $110,000 that Town Manager Kaj Dentler recommended be set aside for seed money for a Main Street program had been cut from the proposed budget.
Twenty-eight-year town resident Doris Kidder, currently a member of the town’s Planning Commission, recalled how she said been a part of several groups over the years that had recommended that the council consider joining the Main Street program.
“The council voted it down every time,” she said. “I am getting really old. I hope this time will be the magic number.”
Nick McCarter, who owns downtown shop 27 South with his wife Carolyn, said the duo have invested a lot in public relations and marketing in their first year of business to drive traffic to their store.
“We’ve had great success but that success wasn’t easy. It was not based on foot traffic alone. We still have people who come to our store and say they didn’t know a business like ours existed in Leesburg,” he said. “The tools and resources from Main Street will allow us to continue to grow, to continue to be successful.”
Gwen Pangle, president of the Historic Downtown Leesburg Association, said as the downtown’s current business organization, their efforts alone are not enough.
“We work really hard, but we’re volunteers. We just can’t do it by ourselves,” she said. “We need a vision. What we have is small potatoes. We are so much bigger than that. I believe our citizens and businesses deserve the full thrust of what we have to offer,” she said.
It appeared at one point following the public hearing that the Main Street program may indeed have had the four votes it needed. But Councilman Ron Campbell recommended an amendment to Mayor Kelly Burk’s motion to add the Main Street funding back into the budget. The amendment, ultimately accepted, instead supports the creation of a special committee to look at economic development comprehensively throughout the town and recommend initiatives to the Town Council, one of which could be moving forward with applying to be a Main Street program. The committee would be composed of council members, members of the Planning Commission, business owners, and stakeholders, and its core focus would be on scrutinizing the economic development section of the Town Plan. $125,000 would be set aside for the effort. This includes $25,000 for a facilitator to guide the committee, and the remaining $100,000 from which initiatives recommended by the committee could be funded by the council. The committee would issue its recommendations to the council in the fall.
Campbell, Burk, and council members Hugh Forsythe and Marty Martinez supported the creation of the committee and the $125,000 budget allocation.
The adopted $107 million budget includes $57 million in the General Fund; $21 million in the Utility Fund; $27 million in the six-year Capital Improvements Program; and $1.4 million in the Capital Asset Reserve, out of which improvements to town infrastructure is funded. The final product marks a 14 percent increase from the adopted budget for the current fiscal year.
The entire budget was adopted on a 6-1 vote, with Councilman Tom Dunn dissenting. Dunn said the budget still contained a lot of waste and specifically cited the addition of three new staffers to the Public Works Department. He said what was needed on town staff was not more resources, but a better management of existing resources.
Dunn made a motion to adopt a tax rate of 18.1 cents per $100 of assessed value. With the $125,000 in additions agreed to Tuesday, that would have required additional cuts totaling just under $400,000, and would have required the adopted budget to be amended. Only Councilman Ken Reid supported Dunn on that vote.
Martinez made the motion to adopt a tax rate of 18.65 cents, the rate that resulted from Tuesday night’s additional budget line item. This would have been up slightly from Dentler’s originally proposed tax rate of 18.6 cents, as well as from last week’s budget mark-up session when resulting additions and deletions that night left the tax rate hovering around 18.48 cents.
The vote to adopt the 18.65-cent rate also failed, with Reid, Dunn, and Fox dissenting. The adoption of a tax rate requires a supermajority, meaning at least five council members must support it.
Reid then successfully received the support of his council colleagues on a motion to reconsider the budget. Council members ultimately agreed to two changes that brought the tax rate down to the adopted rate of 18.4 cents. That rate means the average residential town taxpayer will see an increase to their town taxes of $1 per month.
The first change will use reimbursement money from the developer of Crescent Parke for the lease of Olde Izaak Walton Park in FY17 and FY18 for the $125,000 eyed for the special committee and its recommended initiatives.
The reimbursement is expected to be paid to the town by the end of the year. Originally planned to be put aside in the town’s undesignated fund balance, the money can also be used for one-time expenses. Using the money for the special committee and its initiatives will mean that, should the committee endorse—and the council support—participation in a Main Street program, council members in the FY19 budget deliberations will need to find that annual funding within their budget.
Another change agreed to in the amended budget was put forward by Fox. She recommended that money to purchase a downtown holiday decor package, added during last week’s mark-up session, be scaled back from $85,000 to $45,000. She and others on the council dais cited disappointment that the areas being considered for the holiday decorations did not include portions of the main downtown shopping and dining areas, like King and Market streets. Some council members even suggested that entryways into the town be considered for the decorations.
Dunn was the lone dissenting vote on the adoption of the tax rate. The council unanimously agreed to the adoption of the six-year Capital Improvements Program.