County Administrator Tim Hemstreet will unveil his proposed FY 2021 budget on Feb. 12, kicking off the deliberations of a new board that faces a tougher financial situation than years past.
Hemstreet’s budget, he has said, is expected to cover the cost of a project begun under the last board, reorganizing and rewriting the county’s job descriptions and pay scales. But that project, and its accompanying pay raises for Loudoun’s public employees, whose paychecks have lagged behind Northern Virginia comparators, is expected to add about $24 million to the next budget.
But rather than hold taxes at the equalized rate—a tax cut designed to cancel out the growth in the average real estate bill caused by growing property values—Hemstreet will propose a budget at the current tax rate. That is estimated to add $126 to the $5,179 average tax bill.
Supervisors cast that vote in early January, reversing previous direction to Hemstreet to prepare the budget at the equalized rate. Hemstreet had warned them that, although the compensation and classification project was funded, county departments may not have the funding to keep up with the county’s growth at the equalized rate.
At a subsequent meeting Jan. 21, supervisors defended that decision and reassured county employees who were worried they wouldn’t get the long-planned pay raises.
Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) said, “it’s important to have context with this discussion.” He pointed out that the county long had a policy of paying county employees, on average, 95 percent of what equivalent positions are paid in other Northern Virginia jurisdictions.
“That policy predated my time on the board, and clearly at some point—particularly in the recovery from the Great [Recession]—we got way off track,” Letourneau said. “And that’s why we started four years ago the classification and compensation study that led us to the information that we knew, which was clearly that we were below that 95 percent.”
The county has also revised that policy, now targeting a range five percent above or below salaries in the City of Alexandria and the counties of Arlington, Fairfax, and Prince William.
“I think everybody up here has affirmed that we’re absolutely going to move forward with that, and there is no discussion about not doing that,” Letourneau said. “And I think we will see, as the county administrator always does, the first thing he seeks to fund is his employees’ salaries, as is appropriate.”
Vice Chairman Koran T. Saines (D-Sterling) read a letter from a county employee who was worried supervisors would not move ahead with the raises, which are slated to take effect next month, the final quarter of Fiscal Year 2020.
“This person’s been in our county for 20 years, worked with us for 15 years, and has been struggling, and because of what the previous board did, has now been able to achieve some of their dreams,” Saines said. “And I’m pretty sure it’s not just this county employee, but others as well. So I read that to tell my colleagues, let’s stay the course.”
And County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) lamented that it fell upon the newly elected board to see tax bills go up.
“The worst thing I could have possibly asked for, is for there to be a Democratic majority in the year that taxes went up, because it becomes, ‘yup, Dems came to the board, taxes went up,’” Randall said. “No one at all talks about the fact that our employees were underpaid for years and years and years, and I am fully committed to instituting the comp and class study.”
She said county employees “work hard, they deserve no less.”
“As we go through the budget, we will all look for ways to keep the tax rate as low as possible,” Randall said. “But I think we keep the tax rate as low as possible while still funding county services, and still recognizing the new growth that we’ve had come to the county.”
Hemstreet’s budget proposal will be the first step to writing the new budget. Supervisors will then make their edits to that proposal before voting on a county budget in April.
Hemstreet’s presentation will be at 5 p.m. at the county government center at 1 Harrison St. in Leesburg. He will also present a proposed Fiscal Year 2021 Capital Improvement Program the day before, tonight, at the board’s finance committee at 6 p.m.