It’ll be an earlier start to the budget season for the Town of Leesburg this year, and Town Council members are preparing for what could be some difficult decisions.
Typically, the town manager has presented the proposed fiscal year budget in late February, but this year the presentation will be moved up two weeks, to the council’s Feb. 12 meeting. That’s to meet an agreement that now has Loudoun County government overseeing consolidated tax billing and collection for Leesburg and several other Loudoun towns.
Under that agreement, the Town Council must adopt its real estate tax rate by April 1. The council is expected to vote on the town’s full spending plan at its March 26 meeting. Personal property tax rates must be adopted by March 1 to comply with the new deadline. A staff report suggests that Town Manager Kaj Dentler will propose maintaining the personal property tax rate at $1 per $100 assessed valuation. A public hearing on the personal property tax rates is planned for Feb. 12, the same evening Dentler presents his recommended budget.
On Monday night, the Town Council got a glimpse of the budget outlook when town financial advisor David Rose, of Davenport & Company, presented its annual comprehensive financial review. The town continues to meet or exceed the objectives set forth in its Long Term Financial Sustainability Plan, he noted. Its annual contributions to both its rainy day fund and its debt service reserve have kept the town in sound financial footing. Its savings policies, coupled with its triple-A bond ratings, put the town in prime position for refinancing opportunities that can be used to save on interest rates, or borrowing for future capital projects. Roughly $18.6 million may be borrowed for capital improvements over the next five fiscal years.
A staff report sheds some light on some areas of the proposed fiscal year 2020 budget that could command attention. The Leesburg Police Department, which just recently filled all of its remaining personnel vacancies, will likely be requesting more staffing. The report notes staffing in the department has not increased in the past five years, despite the town’s population growth. A request for additional personnel has been submitted to Dentler, the report says. The planned expansion of the police department’s Plaza Street headquarters is expected to cost more than originally anticipated, and is now pegged at $16 million, up from last year’s estimate of just north of $12 million. The council was expected to vote this week on whether to use $1 million from its rainy day fund to begin design work on the project.
Beyond the police department, staffing increases will likely be recommended in several other areas of town government. The staff report notes the request of four additional positions in the Utilities Department; the addition of a project manager in the Public Works and Capital Projects Department; and support staff to oversee the town’s IT services as part of its IT strategic plan. The report also notes Dentler’s desire to put in place a dedicated director position to implement and oversee an emergency management program for the town.
The Town Council has been loath to increase the size of town government in recent years, following significant layoffs because of the economic recession in 2011. The current fiscal year saw the council add four full-time positions— more than it had in recent memory.
While initial reports indicate that Leesburg’s economic boom continues to translate to increased consumer taxes, one area of funding that is potentially in jeopardy comes via the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority. With grantor’s tax and Transient Occupancy Tax from the NVTA now, as of July 1, 2018, re-directed to pay for the extension of Metrorail, the town is bracing for a loss of about $200,000 to $230,000 annually to help pay for transportation improvements in its Capital Improvements Program. The loss of this money could impact funding that would be awarded by the NVTA board for regional transportation projects, the report notes.