As the Leesburg Town Council prepares to delve into the fiscal year 2019 budget in February, Town Manager Kaj Dentler offered a primer on some of the items the council should expect to consider in the coming months.
On Monday night, Dentler provided one of the final budget updates prior to unveiling his proposed budget. The council is expected to spend much spring combing over the budget, with adoption historically taking place in early April.
A major theme stressed by Dentler on Monday was that the council needs to switch its budget mentality, leaving “recession mode” and entering into “growth mode.” The growth in the town in the coming decade is expected to be significant, with the town population expected to surge to around 60,000 residents by 2024. More than 2,000 new residential units are expected to be constructed in the next five years, and an additional 15 lane miles of road will be added in just the next 18 months, Dentler said.
The workforce is expected to be a big discussion point in Dentler’s proposed budget, and he highlighted Monday just exactly how much the town does with a fairly comparatively employee base. Leesburg has the fewest number of employees per capita among localities in the region and among similar sized towns, Dentler noted, at one staffer per 144 residents. That’s almost half of what the Town of Vienna has at its disposal, at a ratio of 1:86 by comparison.
The town will continue to navigate a “fiscal cliff” through fiscal year 2023, but has avoided significant tax rate hikes thanks to its Long Term Sustainability Plan and annually putting aside reserves to pay down debt service.
“If we did not proactively put money aside to help pay down debt, the tax rates we’ve had could not exist unless we significantly drop services,” Dentler said.
As such, Dentler is proposing to hold the tax rate at its current 18.4 cents per $100 of assessed value level next year, or no less than the equalized tax rate which could be lower while keeping most tax bills level. But he also pleaded with council members to not drastically cut the town’s revenue sources unless it wanted to have a tough conversation about what services should be dropped or cut significantly, or whether taxes would need to be raised. It’s imperative that tax rates remain stable through fiscal year 2024 to stick to the town’s Long Term Sustainability Plan, he said.
But a shift to growth management mode is needed, with the population surge and overall town growth expected in the coming years. Along with that, the council and Dentler will need to find ways to fund some capital projects to keep up with that growth. Perhaps the biggest project of note is the expansion to the town’s police department headquarters on Plaza Street, a project that is currently unfunded with no construction date. The 20-year-old building houses double the number of staff members it did during its opening in 1997, and Dentler said he expects Police Chief Gregory Brown will need to add more officers in the coming years to keep up with population growth.
“We need to get that into the six-year [capital] plan,” Dentler said.
Other new or unfunded construction projects that expect to be addressed during the next year’s budget deliberations are: the refurbishment of the Town Shop across from the Lowe’s Home Improvement store; the construction of more corporate hangars at the Leesburg Executive Airport; storm drainage improvements concern on Liberty Street between Loudoun and Market streets; and streetlight improvements along Royal and Liberty streets.
On the utilities side, Dentler happily reported that the Utility Fund’s revenues continue to meet or exceed projections. A new rate study is expected to commence in the spring, with new adopted rates to be effective come July 1, 2019.