County Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) and the leaders of the board’s standing committees talked housing, a school system under assault, and the county’s near future during the Loudoun Chamber of Commerce’s PolicyMaker Series breakfast Wednesday.
Randall pointed to a range of housing needs—from low-income families; to veterans, seniors, and people with disabilities; to families that make the area median income but still can’t afford a place to live.
“We’ve been in Loudoun County for a long time about how to meet the unmet housing, but we had done anything about putting any skin in the game,” Randall said.
Speaking hours before County Administrator Tim Hemstreet was scheduled to present his annual county budget proposal, Randall pointed to the board’s plans to dedicate the revenue generated by a half-cent of the county’s real estate tax rate to its Housing Trust Fund. She said that would amount to about $6 million a year going into the fund—a new strategy for building up that funding.
“We’ve amassed about $20 million in 20 years in the Housing Trust Fund by selling affordable houses on the market. You don’t want to build your Housing Trust Fund by selling your affordable houses, that doesn’t make sense,” Randall said.
Randall was joined by Transportation and Land Use Committee Chairman Michael R. Turner (D-Ashburn), finance committee Chairwoman Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg), and Joint Board of Supervisors and School Board Committee Co-chairwoman Sylvia R. Glass (D-Broad Run) in a series of brief speeches and a question-and-answer session at the National Conference Center.
And with the COVID-19 pandemic showing signs of waning, Metrorail service finally on the horizon in the second quarter of this year, and other developments on the way like the Children’s Science Center, supervisors looked ahead to the county’s near future.
“There are a lot of things that we’re creating in Loudoun County as a destination which will serve to boost whatever the new normal is, and really begin to attract a whole new market,” Turner said.
Supervisors also acknowledged the ongoing attacks on the county School Board.
“It’s been a difficult time, with extra attention on both the School Board and the Board of Supervisors,” Glass said. “… One of the big undertakings I hope to accomplish as co-chair is fostering a continued positive working relationship between our boards. Although we are two independently elected bodies, it is beneficial for us to know each other’s goals and collaborate on initiatives that overlap. Communication and priority sharing will only work to improve the educational opportunities for our students, our families and our school staff.”
“The school system and some of our departments have made some pretty significant mistakes, and we shouldn’t ignore that, and we shouldn’t look away from that, and we shouldn’t deny that. But just like a person is not the sum total of their worst decisions, a county is not the sum total of their worst decisions either,” Randall said.
The school system still faces scrutiny and unanswered questions around its handling of a sexual assault in a high school by a student, who was then transferred to a different high school where he assaulted a second girl. The school system subsequently commissioned a third-party investigation of its handling of that case, which school leaders have said they will not release to the public. It has since become a regular target for of conservative campaigns and candidates.
But Randall also pointed to the accomplishments of the school district, one of the highest-performing districts in the state in student achievement.
“I, for one, am damn tired of our county being used for a political football, and we are getting off the mat right damn now,” Randall said.