The Leesburg Town Council took its first crack at changes to the proposed fiscal year 2019 budget Monday night, and most council members had very little to add.
Talk first centered on the decision by Town Manager Kaj Dentler to not propose a tax rate equal to the equalized tax rate, where most town taxpayers would not see a change in their tax bill. Dentler has proposed holding the tax rate steady at 18.4 cents per $100 of assessed value, which he emphasized still does not allow the town to catch up with some of the items on its needs list. The equalized tax rate for fiscal year 2019 would be 17.6 cents.
The equalized tax rate “is a failed financial policy for the Town of Leesburg,” he said. While it would hold tax bills level for homeowners on average, he said it would hamstring the town by not being able to address staffing shortages, operational needs, and could severely impact service levels.
“We will bleed to death slowly,” if the equalized tax rate is adopted, Dentler said. “At least at 18.4 [cents] we can maintain where we need to be, but we’re still way behind where we need to be. We are falling behind without at least an inflation factor,” factored into the tax rate.
Two years ago, Dentler had proposed adding an inflation factor into the tax rate, but that change was not accepted by the council.
Councilman Ron Campbell called the proposed 18.4-cent rate a “temporary impasse” while the council determines the best way to plan for the town’s future.
“Eighteen point four [cents] is not a luxury,” he remarked. “As we move ahead we’re going to have to address some tough issues.”
One focus point of Dentler’s budget has been his proposal to add four new full-time positions, including two related to IT and cybersecurity, as well as an administrative assistant in the Department of Plan Review and a construction inspector.
Mayor Kelly Burk applauded those additions. She noted she often sees senior staff in the Department of Plan Review in particular needing to take time to write letters or answer calls, tasks that would usually be performed by an administrative assistant.
“That kills me,” she said.
Burk did propose an addition of $30,000—which she advised be taken from staff vacancy savings to not have a budgetary impact—to begin a survey that would be sent to residents and businesses, alternating at different times of year. It’s an idea she proposed in her February State of the Town address.
“It’s an attempt to find out how are [they] perceiving what is going on in the town, are we doing what they’re expecting,” she explained.
Campbell asked the staff to come back with ideas for enhancements for Thomas Balch Library. It’s an area of the budget that has received significant scrutiny over many years, but Campbell said he believes the library is a “wonderful value” to the town and would like to get an idea of what its needs are. He also asked for information on funding bus shelters in the Capital Improvements Program.
Also on the capital projects side, Vice Mayor Suzanne Fox asked about adding in a project to address storm drainage concerns in the area of Royal Street, an issue raised recently by a resident during a council meeting. Dentler said he is hoping to come back to the council in two weeks with ideas of how to find money in the budget to at least begin studying that project.
Lastly, both council members Tom Dunn and Joshua Thiel asked for ideas from Dentler on creating new staff incentives. Dentler said that is something that would need to be researched beyond the budget review process.
The council was expected to continue its budget review at Tuesday’s meeting, after this paper’s deadline. A copy of the proposed budget, as well as council budget-related questions and staff answers, can be found online at leesburgva.gov/budget. The council is planning to adopt both the budget and tax rate April 10.