Leesburg Council Takes First Crack at Budget

In its first budget mark-up session Monday night, the Leesburg Town Council made some minor adjustments to Town Manager Kaj Dentler’s Fiscal Year 2023 proposal that resulted in a slight increase to the real estate tax rate.

Dentler’s proposed $153 million budget came with an accompanying 17.6-cent real estate tax rate. Should the changes made Monday night hold, rate could bump up to 17.66 cents, adding $2-$9 dollars on to homeowners’ bills.

In a series of straw votes, council members showed support or opposition to a number of additions or deletions brought forward for discussion. 

Councilman Zach Cummings found support for adding $15,000 into the budget for a Potter’s Field memorial project at Ida Lee Park being spearheaded by the Thomas Balch Library Advisory Commission. That money would come from the town’s unassigned fund balance, thus would have no impact on the tax rate.

Potter’s Field was actually located at the intersection of East Market Street and Catoctin Circle. The half-acre site was purchased by the town in 1839 to use as a graveyard for the burial of paupers. During an archaeological excavation of the site in the early 1980s, evidence of hundreds of graves was uncovered, including the remains of Charles Cravens, a lynching victim from 1902. The bones that were retrieved from the site during the excavation were re-interred at a mass grave in a plot at Union Cemetery.

Cummings said the commission originally hoped to have a memorial for Potter’s Field at the cemetery, but the cost of land alone exceeded $20,000, and thus the commission chose to pursue a site at Ida Lee Park.

Council members also supported funding two other commission requests, both brought forward by Councilman Neil Steinberg—a $35,000 request from the Parks & Recreation Commission to install historical/informational plaques at seven town parks, detailing more information about who the park is named for, or the history of the park; and a $12,000 request from the Commission on Public Art to continue efforts to promote the Arts & Cultural District. 

Cummings also attempted to find support to look at lower cost options, like mothballing or boarding up windows on the Wirt Street building recently acquired by the council. The property, a former office, has been eyed by the town government for years as potential land to expand Town Hall. Estimates for renovating the structure range from $600,000 to $800,000, while costs to demolish it are estimated at $200,000 to $300,000. Mothballing the building to preserve its condition is lowest cost option, at $75,000 to $80,000, according to a staff report provided to the council. Cummings pointed out that pursuing the most expensive option would only net the town government enough space for about four new offices. Only council members Suzanne Fox and Kari Nacy supported going forward with the mothballing option. 

Fox proposed removing $100,000 earmarked for the creation of an economic development strategic plan, another initiative that would be funded by the unassigned fund balance. Only Nacy supported that straw vote. Councilman Ara Bagdasarian recommended taking the $100,000 for the economic development plan and instead using it to fund smart parking technology. When that idea did not win support, he proposed adding $150,000 to the budget for the smart parking technology in the Town Hall parking garage. That did find majority support.

The council continued to go back and forth on whether to fund a Planning Commission-endorsed transportation study. After some debate, Dentler proposed returning to the council in two weeks with more information about the cost of updating the town’s current transportation model versus the cost of funding a completely new study. 

Nacy proposed funding a new neighborhood grant program with initial seed money of $150,000, but was supported only by Fox and Cummings. The program would assist both communities with and without HOAs in making improvements such as new streetlights. Mayor Kelly Burk expressed her concerns that there would be “equity problems” with such a program, as only the most organized or, perhaps, vocal communities would receive funding. 

Salaries of town government employees, particularly the Leesburg Police Department, commanded significant attention Monday night. Dentler has proposed the return of a cost of living adjustment of 2% for all full-time and regular part-time town government employees, the first time that has been in the town budget in more than a decade. Employees also are eligible to receive pay for performance raises of up to 4%. Dentler said the 2% COLA is less than employees deserve, particularly with the rising cost of inflation and the amount of time that has elapsed since the last COLA payments. 

The town manager also pointed out that Leesburg was one of the few localities in the region that did not provide bonuses to employees during the pandemic. Nacy said out she had personally advocated for them when the town received its stimulus money from the federal government. She proposed saving $500,000 by eliminating the COLA payments from the budget, but emphasized that was not a reflection of her appreciation for staff, but of how the council can help taxpayers. She did not receive support for that cut. 

On the police department, Dentler said the town has made a concerted effort to address salaries for its officers, with the force’s “front line workers,” or officers through the rank of lieutenant, receiving a salary increase this year. The town, like many jurisdictions, is dealing with compression issues as starting salaries have increased in part due to the competitive job market, in some cases at a faster rate than the salaries of veteran workers. Leesburg’s police officers’ starting salary is now the highest in the region, Dentler added. Dentler said he is attempting to address the positions most vulnerable to turnover throughout the organization. Police Chief Gregory Brown said, at some point down the road, he would like to take another look at the pay bands for police officers.

A public hearing on the proposed budget was planned for Tuesday night, after this paper’s deadline. A public hearing on the tax rate is planned for March 22, the same evening the council is expected to adopt the budget. 

For more information on the budget, go to leesburgva.gov/budget. 

One thought on “Leesburg Council Takes First Crack at Budget

  • 2022-03-08 at 4:08 pm

    I hope Leesburg will impose an austerity budget. Instead of sitting around, figuring out how to spend more money — make cuts! I’ve seen the salaries of these public employees. They’re quite handsome. Any talk of salary increases and/or bonuses is outlandish. Too many drones are feeding quite comfortably at the public trough. That must stop. Happy Women’s History Month Loudoun!

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