Dozens of residents sat in on Mayor Bridge Littleton’s State of the Town Address on Tuesday night at the Middleburg Community Center—an event aimed at becoming a new tradition in town.
Littleton read through more than 30 pages detailing the town’s economic and business development status, its financial landscape and ever-expanding events, a project that will see the town staff move into a new office in the coming years, and his outlook on the town as it heads into the next fiscal year and beyond.
Littleton highlighted that the Town Council’s proudest accomplishment in the past 4-5 years has been its willingness to focus and invest on economic development and infrastructure, which, he said, is becoming more evident. “We are now starting to see the benefits and the results of that energy, of that investment and that focus,” he said.
Perhaps the timeliest portion of his address focused on the Town Council’s Oct. 10 vote to approve the town’s new comprehensive plan, which the Planning Commission, town staff and the Berkley Group took three years to compile and will guide the town’s land use for the next two decades.
Littleton emphasized that the town needs to work with county government leaders to protect the rural landscape that surrounds the corporate limits, noting that Loudoun’s growth is encroaching on the town. “We’ve got to work with Loudoun if we’re going to protect the area,” he said.
Another key component of Littleton’s address dealt with the town’s drive to attract new businesses and support existing ones. He pointed to the town’s recent $750,000 sale of the Health Center to Old Ox Brewery after nearly four decades operating the property at a loss.
Littleton said there were 14 vacant storefronts on Washington and Madison Streets in 2016, but now that number is down to five. He mentioned that the town continues to “aggressively” look to recruit the “right businesses” that fit the community’s feel, serve town residents and enhance the overall Middleburg experience. “We’re doing a good job, but you have to be ever vigilant,” he said.
Littleton emphasized that while the town is in a strong financial position, it has to continue seeking out ways to remain financially stable with an economy that relies heavily on tourism, which could rapidly drop off in the next economic downturn.
In the past 20 years, the town’s main revenue source has shifted from property taxes to tourism-based revenue, which now accounts for 65 percent—$1.08 million in meals tax revenue and close to $900,000 in transient occupancy tax revenue—of the town’s total revenues. In Fiscal Year 2020, the town projects it will bring in only $555,000 in property tax revenue.
Littleton said that because of the risk that tourism-based revenue could dissipate rather quickly at any moment, the town recently hired an economist to create a model that can forecast indicators leading to the next economic downturn.
For now, though, that heavy tourism has prompted the town to restructure its Community and Cultural Events Committee to better support town events. Littleton told residents that the town is focused on enhancing existing events and developing one or two new ones to bring in more visitors to support businesses, spread Middleburg’s name and support art, such as concerts, art shows and theater productions.
As for the new town office project, Littleton said the existing, 55-year-old office is unable to effectively serve the needs of the community and that the town staff is evaluating location and financing options.
In addition to the new town office, Littleton talked about the town’s need to continue investing in infrastructure projects, saving money for the rainy-day fund and moving toward completing the town-branding project.
Littleton said that although Middleburg is overall doing well—noting that the town has grown its unassigned funds balance to more than $6 million in the last half-decade and has generated $110,000 in additional annual income from $3.7 million in investments—it needs to remain focused to remain in such a strong position.
“When you’re doing great, you think it’s on autopilot and it’s not—you have to be vigilant,” he said. “We can’t hold back, you got to keep going.”
Middleburg is now the third of seven Loudoun towns to host a State of the Town Address. Already, Leesburg Mayor Kelly Burk and Purcellville Mayor Kwasi Fraser deliver such addresses, with Lovettsville Mayor Nate Fontaine eyeing one for 2020.