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Votes

Lodging Tax Boosts PDR Program

<bt>Nearly $1 million of the county's lodging tax will be used to help support the Purchase of Development Rights program next year, replacing use of a bond referendum that would have added to the county's current debt load.

"This was a tough budget year. Next year will be a tougher budget year," said Supervisor Chuck Harris (D-Broad Run), following the April 1 Board of Supervisors meeting. "It wasn't reasonable to add more debt to our debt service. We felt that wasn't a reasonable thing to do in our current budget situation."

The Board of Supervisors agreed 5-4 to use $980,000 left over in fiscal year 2002 to help bolster the PDR program in 2003. The funds come from the undesignated portion of the Tourism Occupancy Tax (TOT) charged at lodging facilities.

The undesignated funds will be coupled with another $3.6 million the county has set aside for the PDR land conservation program, initiated in early 2000 to protect open space, natural resources and farmland from development.

"We define ourselves by where we live and work, and this is something that will help define our sense of place," said Mike Kane, director of the PDR program.

The county set aside $8 million in fiscal years 2001-02 to purchase development rights from property owners who do not already have the conservation easements, spending $4.4 million this year on nine properties totaling 1,748 acres. The PDR funding came from the general fund.

"We had to find a stable source of revenue," said Supervisor James "Jim" Burton (I-Mercer) about continuing the program. "We've struggled to find a source of funds."

The board identified the TOT as an option.

"We felt a more efficient way to do this is to use the TOT funds," Harris said. "It's a better use of that money for open space, and that helps enhance tourism as well as the rural economy and our quality of life in eastern Loudoun."

THE COUNTY generated a projected $2.6 million in fiscal year 2002 through the lodging tax, which is 5 percent. Seventy-five percent of the tax funds tourism projects and provides tourism-related grants, with the remaining 25 percent set aside for the county's general fund, this year $1.1 million.

The Board of Supervisors agreed to continue funding the program in fiscal year 2004 with the undesignated 25 percent of the funds. County staff will include the PDR program in the revenue allocation formula, providing it with an annual share of at least $1 million.

Several speakers at the April 1 meeting voiced their opposition to using the TOT funds for the PDR program.

A hotel manager said prior TOT grant requests cannot be touched if tourism is to continue to grow in the county.

"This is a fundamental investment protection," said Sugarland Run resident Jonathan Schwartz, general manager of the Fairfield Inn near Washington Dulles International Airport.

South Riding resident Vinay Patel said TOT funding is needed to help the industry through a slow economy and the effects of Sept. 11, adding that he does not want it used for the PDR program.

Harris said some of the speakers had "partial information." "The easements are in perpetual perpetuity," he said.

The deadline for the PDR applications was April 1. The PDR board received another 20 applications in addition to the 150 applications submitted last year. Some of the applications did not qualify or the properties were withdrawn, so the number for consideration is smaller.

County staff will review the applications and provide a recommendation list of applicable properties to the PDR board by May 15. The PDR board will narrow the applications further to present to the Board of Supervisors in the fall. Before any purchases are made, the county will have to negotiate the terms of the conservation easements, obtain real estate appraisals of the properties and negotiate a selling price for the easements.

IN OTHER BUSINESS,

• The board approved in separate votes to conduct work sessions on remapping and zoning ordinance revisions, which are required with the July 2001 adoption of the county's 20-year comprehensive plan.

Focus groups will serve in an advisory role on different aspects of the revisions, including those focused on rural economic development, conservation design, overlay districts, suburban districts and the Town Joint Land Management Areas.

The groups will begin reviewing the revisions in mid-April when they become available from the county's consultant, Clarion Associates.

The public will be included in public overview sessions with the board and Planning Commission and can attend presentations about the project.

• The board approved 7-2 authorizing a public hearing on a proposed amendment to increase the E-911 Telephone Service Fee. A $1 increase is included in the fiscal year 2003 budget to generate an estimated $1.35 million in additional revenue for the Public Safety Communications Fund. The fee increase could take affect in September if the board adopts the ordinance immediately following the public hearing. The current fee is $1. Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) and Drew Hiatt (R-Dulles) voted against the motion.