Just a month into fiscal year 2019, Leesburg Town Manager Kaj Dentler and staff are already at work on next year’s budget.
On Monday night, Dentler offered council members a glimpse of some of the key issues that will be in front of them next spring when they begin to deliberate the fiscal year 2020 budget. And staffing figures to be chief among them.
Dentler noted that, while vacancies in the police department are decreasing, there will need to be a serious conversation about expanding the roster.
“The reason Chief [Gregory] Brown hasn’t asked for more officers is because I didn’t put it forward. I didn’t think it was prudent when we had so many vacancies. They’ve closed that gap now and that conversation is coming,” Dentler said.
The police department has about six or seven vacant sworn officer positions. When Brown was first installed as police chief in 2016 that number was closer to 20.
Two police department positions the council toyed with adding to the fiscal year 2019 budget—but ultimately did away with during straw votes—was a dispatcher and youth services coordinator. In addition to department personnel, a $12 million expansion to the Plaza Street station was added to the town’s Capital Improvements Program in the spring. But, Dentler said Monday, that expansion might not be enough.
“I’m concerned that even if we make the investment, create more space … in five, six, eight years we may be challenged with needing additional space,” he said.
The town’s continued growth, with a population that’s nearly doubled in the past 18 years, is what’s driving the need for more staff and more service demands. Dentler also said that, as the largest town in the commonwealth, it may be time to consider adding a position for someone to oversee emergency management.
Adding to the town staff has been an infrequent occurrence in Leesburg in the past decade, following Town Hall layoffs in 2011. This spring, the council added the most full-time positions to the budget in quite a while—a total of four.
Along with adding to the staff, Dentler said he is focused on ensuring smooth transitions when staff members retire or move on to other jobs. A chief competitor for the town in the hiring arena is the Loudoun County government, and county supervisors are in the process of revamping their compensation structure to make pay and benefits more competitive.
Dentler added that 20 to 25 percent of the town’s workforce could retire in the next four to five years.
“We want to make sure we’re trained and prepared to take over, not just whatever happens happens,” he said.
The town’s growth does not appear to be slowing down anytime soon, even with it nearing 96 percent build out. Dentler noted that, with by right development alone, an additional 1,440 residential units are in the pipeline, along with another 1.5 million square feet of commercial space. When residential and commercial growth tied to rezoning applications is considered, that adds anther 600 potential housing units and 500,000 more square feet of commercial. As full build out approaches, redevelopment will come more into play, he said.
While the town’s consumer taxes—like business license taxes and meals tax—continues to bring in strong revenues and overall revenues are outpacing expenditures, the town staff is always planning for the day the economy slows.
“If we’re not careful, our planning will be caught off guard,” Dentler said.