Supervisors Look to Release COVID-19 Budget Reserves

County budget staff is likely to recommend the Board of Supervisors release up to $40 million of the $100 million that was frozen in the county budget as the pandemic hit Loudoun, Assistant Director of Management and Budget Caleb Weitz said.

Weitz told members of the board’s finance committee Nov. 10 that staff members expect to bring that to supervisors “barring something completely unexpected happening.” The exact recommendation will depend at least in part on the Oct. 5 collection of real estate taxes, but is expected to be between $20 million and $40 million.

Under supervisors’ budget policy, 60% of that money would go to the school system. Both the School Board and Board of Supervisors have signaled their intent to target that money to provide employee raises that were delayed by the budget freeze.

It also could allow the county to catch up some other things that have been delayed during the pandemic, such as hiring three new positions in the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office and a new position under the Clerk of the Circuit Court as the courts start to clear their backlog of jury trials. Other money could go to more nurses in the health department, staff to run the Department of Animal Services’ planned new facility scheduled to open early next year, and staffing for the Ashburn Senior Center.

But one thing it may not include, without action from supervisors: retroactive pay from the date employee raises were originally scheduled to go into effect. Some supervisors said they would like to see that happen. County Administrator Tim Hemstreet said there’s no fiscal reason that couldn’t happen, but budget office staff said there would be some technical hurdles to work through.

“These are definitely not normal times, but once you get your increase, the normal thing to do is to get retro,” said Supervisor Koran T. Saines (D-Sterling).

County staff members are still monitoring revenue sources such as sales and property taxes with an eye toward keeping the county budget balanced. Sales taxes in particular, Weitz said, could be uncertain going into the winter. Presently, he said, they expect around a $33 million overall revenue loss compared to the budget adopted early this year, partially offset by around $9 million in savings beyond the $100 million budget freeze.

“I actually think it’s very good story that we’re going to be able to implement salary increases at this level, even though it’s not the full amount going back retroactively,” said finance committee Chairman Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles). “Certainly in the private sector there’s not a lot of salary increases going on.”

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