Public Employees, Human Services Dominate Saturday Budget Hearing

About 40 people spoke during a Saturday morning public hearing on the next county budget, and most of them asked supervisors to approve funding already proposed in County Administrator Tim Hemstreet’s draft budget for county employees and human services agencies.

Members of the Service Employees International Union Virginia 512 pressed supervisors to keep on track in the second year of a three-year project to catch the county up to the rest of the region on county staffing levels and pay. Earlier in their term, supervisors heard that the county government had lagged far behind population growth, resulting in government employees who work more for less money than their colleagues in other Northern Virginia jurisdictions. Child Protective Services social worker Brenda Dettaase said she and her husband live outside Loudoun and still must work multiple jobs to make ends meet.

“Our children joke sometimes that they need to call CPS because they’re neglected,” Dettaas said. “I used to laugh, but then I thought about it.”

“Please support the raises, and please support adequate staffing, so that we can improve the life of local families and of our own employees, and that we can make Loudoun a place where people want to work as well as live,” said another CPS employee, Lisa Grieble.

Others asked supervisors to continue their support of services for the less fortunate in Loudoun, such as people with physical or mental disabilities. Community Services Board Chairman Angelo Wider said budget increases to the Department of Mental Health, Substance Abuse and Developmental Services in recent years have already helped, and more is needed.

“As a result of your support, the department has improved access and engagement and services for individuals with serious emotional disturbance, serious mental illness, substance use disorders, and development and intellectual disabilities,” Wider said.

Community Services Board Vice Chairwoman Amy McMullen, an assistant commonwealth’s attorney,  pointed to the Loudoun District Court’s new mental health docket, speaking of success stories in which through treatment people have found jobs or English lessons for the first time rather than landing in jail.

“Keeping the seriously mental ill out of Loudoun jails is a worthy human service and public safety goal,” McMullen said.

Teachers and members of the Loudoun Education Association supported the school board’s full budget request, which has been cut in past years but this year came within the funding targets set by county supervisors.

“We should be leading the region in our support of education, not just trying to keep up with Fairfax,” said high school business teacher and LEA President David Palanzi.

“As a teacher, I have to give assessments to ensure my students grasp what they learned that day,” said Alexis Severo. “So it’s time for your assessment: how many jobs does a teacher need to live in Loudoun County?”

And a number of people from Leesburg disability services and employment nonprofit ECHO and Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus in Ashburn supported funding for their program, which helps place people with disabilities in jobs and supports their needs in those jobs.

“The ECHO-Janelia relationship is a win-win for everyone involved,” said Janelia Research Campus Scientific Operations Manager Todd Laverty. “The ECHO employees care about their jobs and enjoy coming to work every day. Who doesn’t like that?”

Robert Arbetter spoke on behalf of his sister-in-law, Becky Whitney, who has a job through ECHO.

“Our family lucked into moving to Ashburn close to ECHO, where Becky for the first time in her life had a job, a paycheck, friends, a social life, activities, boyfriends, girlfriends—in short, a life,” Arbetter said. “How can we put a price tag on that?”

Unusually, none of the speakers appearing at the board’s  three budget public hearings advocated cutting taxes below the equalized rate, which is the rate at which the average homeowner tax bill remains the same despite changing—generally rising—real estate values.

Supervisors will hold their first budget work session this evening at 5 p.m.

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