The Leesburg Town Council’s first budget-markup session for the proposed fiscal year 2020 budget ended as it began—with a 19.4-cent tax rate and Town Manager Kaj Dentler’s proposed enhancements intact.
During its mark-up session Monday night, council members offered several suggestions for additions or deletions to the budget, but no straw vote found majority support.
Councilman Tom Dunn found no support for nixing the entirety of Dentler’s proposed $734,000 budget additions, which include seven new full-time positions in the General Fund. Councilwoman Suzanne Fox had slightly more support for her proposal to eliminate all enhancements except the new position of emergency management director, but still fell short of the four votes needed. Dunn and Councilman Josh Thiel supported her on that straw vote.
Dunn also did not have any of his colleagues’ support for expanding health insurance benefits to Town Council members, aligning their benefits with full-time town employees. That would mean a budget increase of about $85,000.
A proposal to look into renting office space for Town Council members also fell flat, at least for now. Councilman Neil Steinberg put that forward for consideration, but only found support from Mayor Kelly Burk and Vice Mayor Marty Martinez. Dentler has maintained that there is not any room in Town Hall to provide office space for council members, so the town would have to look to rent private space if so desired.
Thiel proposed eliminating the $500,000 combined contribution to both the Leesburg Volunteer Fire Company and Loudoun Fire-Rescue Squad, rather than beginning year one of a three-year phase-out proposed by Dentler. Only Dunn and Fox supported him in that straw vote.
Burk’s proposal to add $10,000 into the budget for public art in town drew the support only of Martinez and Steinberg.
Dunn, who has in budget years’ past advocated adopting a budget at or near the equalized rate, asked the town staff for suggested cuts to bring real estate tax rate to 17.7 cents, a rate that would, on average, keep tax bills level.
Councilman Ron Campbell did not support any of the straw votes, or propose any additions or deletions of his own, but noted that he supported all of Dentler’s proposed enhancements.
To drop the tax rate down by a penny, the council would have to find almost $800,000 in budget cuts. The currently proposed 19.4-cent tax would be 1 cent above the current fiscal year 2019 rate of 18.4 cents and will mean a tax bill increase of about $72 annually for the average residential town taxpayer.
There was an acknowledgement by some council members Monday that the town has some catching up to do with its unmet needs.
“Tax increases really haven’t kept pace with the growth of the town. There is a consequence to growth,” Campbell said.
Dunn, however, questioned the justification of the town’s increasing population and the need to expand the budget, with him pointing to how services in some areas have decreased.
The council was scheduled to hold a public hearing on the budget Tuesday, after this paper’s deadline. The final budget mark-up session is scheduled for Monday, March 25, with budget and tax rate adoption eyed for the following evening. For more information on the budget, go to leesburgva.gov/budget.