Editor: It has been an honor and a humbling experience to serve the County of Loudoun and specifically the citizens of the Catoctin District. The past eight years have been some of the most rewarding and challenging years of my life. I want to thank my colleagues for their service to the county and the county staff for all their work as well. We have an outstanding county staff and there are so many that have helped me along the way.
Eight years ago, when the last board was elected in 2011, Loudoun County was facing some serious challenges. We were pretty much a bedroom community for the Metro area, our commercial/industrial tax base was at about 17 percent, we did not have a viable economic development plan, we had the highest residential property taxes in the region (and one of the highest in the country), we had just cut the school budget (not the ask, the budget) two years in a row and we had no money in the CIP for roads.
Today, we have doubled our commercial/industrial tax base to 34 percent, we’ve put about $1.2 billion into the CIP for roads, we dedicated $0.02 of our tax rate for transportation, we have funded almost 99 percent of the school board’s ask and we have fully funded their budget twice, we have lowered our residential property tax rate by $0.28 and our equalized rate by about $0.05 (this is about $240 savings for the average homeowner)… And after getting out a little more in this last election, I have found that we are the envy of the surrounding jurisdictions.
And, we did all this while lowering taxes. How did this happen? These things didn’t happen by accident. They happened with good solid conservative leadership. We developed and implemented a viable economic development plan. We established a gov’t reform commission and we worked with business leaders to reduce the regulation burden on Loudoun businesses. We implemented many of their ideas and suggestions to make Loudoun attractive to business. And, we resisted the temptation to raise taxes every time someone had a “good idea.”
At the new board’s first meeting, I heard rhetoric that “lowering taxes has put us where we are now” with regards to the recent class and compensation study and the current board’s desire to increase the competitiveness of our county salaries. Let me be clear, the compensation policy that the board is now addressing is also a legacy of prior boards that raised taxes to record levels and cut the school budget. The last two Republican board’s have spent eight years digging out of the hole that was dug by the Democrat controlled Board’s that preceded them.
Sound financial policy takes patience and now is the time to address the competitiveness of the salaries by classification, but it doesn’t have to be done all at once. Our employees have already received substantial increases over the past two years to get competitive with other counties and the current class and comp recommendations can be broken into pieces and phased in without raising taxes.
In closing, I would offer these last thoughts to next board that has just taken office.
Please don’t take the county’s successes for granted. As I said above, these things don’t happen by accident, they happen with good governance. One doesn’t have to look very far to see that most of the jurisdictions around us have ignored economic development, run off business and had to raise taxes. For a perfect bad example, just look across the river to Montgomery County, MD, in this same economy, they are looking at a $100 million budget shortfall this year.
Be patient, deliberate and remember Loudoun’s motto, “I byde my time.”
Geary M. Higgins, Waterford
[The writer represented theCatoctin District on the Board of Supervisors from 2012 to 2019 and on the School Board from 2001 to 2004.]