County Capital Program Grappling With Growth

Supervisors on the county finance committee on Tuesday got a preview of the county’s six-year capital program, the part of the county budget dedicated mostly to construction projects like new roads and schools. They heard about the many ways county budget staff are trying to grapple with Loudoun’s continued growth, especially as it has outpaced the size of its government.

Director of Management and Budget Erin McLellan said there is little room for new projects in that budget, which is constrained by how much the county has to spend and how much it responsibly raise through selling debt. That means new projects will have to go to the back of the line, getting funding six years or more from now—or projects already planned sooner will have to be pushed back.

That also means many of the changes to this year’s capital program will likely be more internal to the government.

But county staff members are still working to change what’s in that budget. This year, for the first time, county government and school administration staff worked to carve out a part of the budget set aside purely for maintenance and renovation of the many buildings the county has built over the last 20 years, many of which now need upkeep.

McLellan said the plan is to slowly work up to a consistent level of spending to support that work.

“Right now, the plan is that we would be shooting for a target of about $10 million to $15 million in replacement funding each year for the county, and about $60 million for the schools, and that will take us several years to ramp up,” McLellan said. While before those projects were in with the rest of the work in the capital improvement program, they are often smaller and need to happen faster.

County staff members are also looking at how what they need to manage Loudoun’s constant construction projects as the county’s needs have sometimes outpaced its government staffing.

“We’re only growing in number of projects, but also complexity and scope of those projects are also increasing,” McLellan said. “So it take a tremendous amount of resources to support a plan and to executive all of those projects simultaneously.”

Her department has developed a model for measuring every project’s complexity—and what it will take to manage those projects. That may come into focus this year, as a major part of the budget County Administrator Tim Hemstreet will unveil tonight is expected to revolve around updating the county’s payscales, job descriptions and staffing levels.

More than half of Loudoun’s capital budget is in transportation projects, $1.18 billion. The next-largest category, school projects, is less than half that at $521.9 million. Transportation projects have taken up a growing share of the county budget over the last eight years, as the two previous Boards of Supervisors have worked to make up for the state’s failure to keep up with Loudoun’s transportation needs.

Of those transportation projects, the vast majority are roads, about $994.6 million worth. Other projects, like traffic signals, assisting town projects, are transit, make up the difference.

Almost half of the budget is funded through debt financing, supported by the triple-triple-a rating on Loudoun’s bonds. Loudoun is actually using less debt financing before, as the government seeks other sources of financing such as proffers from developers and a $25 million federal transportation grant.

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