As the Leesburg Town Council readies to adopt its fiscal year 2020 budget tonight, it appears that three requested positions for the Leesburg Police Department will be dropped from the spending plan.
During their final budget mark-up session Monday night, a majority of council members supported straw votes to cut a total of three new full-time positions proposed by Town Manager Kaj Dentler. Two of the three new patrol officers were cut, along with a youth services coordinator for the police department. Council members Josh Thiel, Suzanne Fox, Tom Dunn and Ron Campbell supported those cuts.
Another proposed new full-time position, an emergency management director, was initially cut in a straw vote put forward by Councilman Neil Steinberg. However, after talks with Dentler during a five-minute council recess, Steinberg indicated brought the vote up for reconsideration and the position found support to be added back into the budget.
Other budget changes that found support were the addition of $30,000 to accommodate bulk trash pick-ups, which was put forward by Dunn; and reallocating $10,000 from funds set aside for downtown events to public art projects, an idea brought forward by Campbell.
The council also indicated support for advancing two capital projects up in the construction schedule—the sidewalk project on the north side of Edwards Ferry Road between west of Woodberry Road and Prince Street, and drainage and sidewalk improvements on Royal Street between Church and Wirt streets. Dentler told the council that his staff could accommodate moving the Edwards Ferry project up one year, and moving the Royal Street project to fiscal year 2020. However, a majority of the council directed that the Edwards Ferry project be moved up two years, which could potentially mean dirt would be moving by next spring. Dentler warned that he may return to the council Tuesday night with a request for more staff resources or revising the schedule of other projects to accommodate those changes.
Council members did support Dentler’s three-step approach on how to move forward on conversations with the county government about potentially turning over dispatch responsibilities and going with a county-wide Emergency Communications Center. Dentler has recommended that the council initiate discussions with the county on the development of a Memorandum of Agreement; allocate $40,000 from the undesignated fund balance to hire a technical consultant to evaluate how the town would go about replacing its Computer Aided Dispatch/Records Management System, should it choose to not go on the county’s system; and schedule a future work sessions on MOA discussions and the consultant recommendations. This process would not bind the council to any decision, Dentler emphasized.
“I can’t tell you which one is better at this time. I don’t have all the facts, you don’t have all the facts. Our recommendation is to proceed down this path, allow us to get the data, and bring it back for a future work session,” he said.
Following last night’s straw votes, the council is looking at a budget with a real estate tax rate that stands at 19.09 cents per $100 of assessed value. That’s up from the current fiscal year’s rate of 18.4 cents, but below Dentler’s proposed 19.4-cent rate.
Fox found support for a motion directing Dentler to identify almost $550,000 in cuts that would allow the council to hold the tax rate level. Under the council’s direction, those cuts may not include delaying the hiring of new staff until midway through the fiscal year. Dentler is to provide the list during tonight’s meeting, when a final budget vote is expected.