In their second work session on the county budget Thursday night, Loudoun supervisors chopped more than $909,000 from the spending requests submitted by human service agencies including the departments of Family Services; Health; and Mental Health, Substance Abuse, and Disability Services.
By contrast, on Monday night, supervisors added funding an additional School Resource Officer in the Sheriff’s Office budget which did not appear in the sheriff’s budget request.
County Administrator Tim Hemstreet’s proposed budget called for growing the human service agencies by nearly $4.3 million and 36 jobs. After the cuts, those are down to 29 new jobs and $3.4 million.
Adding a third new school resource officer to the two in the sheriff’s budget request tacked another $195,000 into the county budget.
Two of the positions cut from the Department of Family Services were from a new four-member Housing Policy Division, which feature the expertise to put together financing agreements for affordable housing projects.
One thing supervisors did not cut was a half-million-dollar program to set up a behavioral health program for career and volunteer fire and rescue first responders.
That proposal includes hiring a new behavioral health coordinator, trained in psychology or a related field, to focus on developing the behavioral health program and daily support. It would also include contracting for regular behavioral health training for first responders.
Supervisor Koran T. Saines (D-Sterling) read aloud a letter from an anonymous firefighter about the need for that program.
That firefighter had responded to fatal incidents and carried severed body parts to a helicopter in a biohazard bag from car wrecks. The firefighter wrote of years of recurring nightmares, marital problems, anger issues, and two near suicide attempts, resulting from PTSD, anxiety disorders, and depression.
“Unfortunately, you leave a piece of yourself on every tough call you run,” the firefighter wrote. “The severity of the call depends on how big the piece is.” The firefighter wrote that the behavioral health funding is “a much needed component to better take care of our personnel.”
In total, over three work sessions, supervisors have cut just over $1 million from Hemstreet’s proposed budget. They now can add that much more in expenditures back into the budget without increasing the proposed real estate tax rate.
If supervisors wish to lower the tax rate by a penny, they will have to carve another $7.1 million out of Hemstreet’s proposed budget, or $8.2 million in total. $5.4 million of that would come from the schools; $2.8 would come from the county government. That would decrease the average tax bill $47, or about $3.92 a month.
The first draft of the budget is funded at a real estate tax rate of $1.09 per $100 of assessed value, a 3.5 cent cut from this year’s tax rate. That is the equalized rate, at which the average real property owner pays the same dollar figure in real estate taxes despite growing values. The county’s budget growth is buoyed in large part by other taxes, such as property taxes on data centers.
Hemstreet has warned against cutting too deeply into his proposed budget, as the county government continues to catch up from years of falling behind Loudoun’s population growth, brings its salaries in line with the region, and tackles its need for roads and infrastructure.
Supervisors’ votes so far are unofficial straw polls. They are scheduled to take an official vote April 3.