Per Capita Spending Declines

Per Capita Spending Declines

County spending increased in the last decade at the same time as per capita spending declined, according to information presented by county staff at the first budget work session on Feb. 26. The spending returned to 1990 levels in 2000.

The county's fiscal year 2003 operating budget increased five percent to $875.3 million from $835.5 million the year before. The amount of funding for the fiscal year 1991 budget was not provided during the presentation and could not be obtained by press time. Information about per capita spending for each of the departments was available, as presented by Ben Mays, budget officer for the Department of Management Services.

Since the 1990s, per capita expenditures decreased by 28 percent and increased by the end of the decade, Mays said. The per capita expenditures in 1991 were more than $1,000 and decreased to less than $800 in 1999 and 2000 to return to more than $1,000 in 2002 and 2003. The county entered into a recession after fiscal year 1991 and reduced expenditures and services at that time.

"Only recently have service and staffing increases brought the county's level of effort back to those of the early '90s," said County Administrator Kirby Bowers in a memo addressed to the Board of Supervisors for the Feb. 19 board meeting.

Bowers said the county's spending patterns need to be evaluated over an extended time period to put into perspective the proposed 2003 budget, which includes $552.9 million for the school board and another $314.9 million for the county.

"You have to look at economic cycles from recession to recession to see what has occurred," Bowers said in a separate interview.

NON-EDUCATION SPENDING per capita dropped from more than $1,000 in 1991 to less than $800 in 2000. School expenditures per capita increased from about $1,200 in 1991, dropped to about $1,050 in the mid-1990s and returned to nearly $1,300 in 2000. At the same time the county's population increased from 86,000 residents to nearly 170,000 residents, according to the U.S. Census.

"We certainly grew in the decade in the '90s. Many services in the county did correlate with the growth. We're doing much more today than we did in 1991 in terms of overall service delivery," Bowers said. "We have a larger more diverse population base that has service implications, and we had to address those things."

Mays listed service delivery increases in the past decade for public safety; community services; parks, recreation and community services; and library services. The county made the following additions to services:

* Initiated traffic, bicycle, mall and community policing units for the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office, hired an additional 100 deputies in the past two years and increased investigations and technical support.

* Increased daytime career staff coverage for the fire and rescue services and in fiscal year 2002 took over $2.2 million in proffer payments.

* Increased the hours at the animal shelter.

* Implemented welfare reform.

* Assumed responsibility of Section 8 Rental Assistance after consistent state failure.

* Increased staff in several areas of community services.

* Opened the Rust and Eastern Loudoun Regional libraries and reopened the Purcellville Library.

"We're delivering a broader array of services, and we're doing it with less employees per capita," Bowers said. The number of full-time equivalent county employees per 1,000 population decreased from 15 in 1991 to 12 in 2002, while school employees per capita increased from 21 to 24.

Board members commented after the presentation. "This is a broader picture, and it gives more context," said Supervisor Jim Burton (I-Mercer). "It shows basically we're not much different than 10 years ago."

"There are people that are saying our budget is increasing faster than population growth, and therefore that's waste," said Supervisor Chuck Harris (D-Broad Run) in a separate interview. "Sprawl costs us all. We're opening five new schools this year. That's $9 million in new operational costs this year that we didn't have before. We're bringing back services to levels of 10 years ago."

Harris said state funding is declining for education, social services and transportation, requiring the county to cover the slack. "We as a county have to pick up more of that responsibility, more of that funding," he said.

The tax rate increase from about 77 cents in 1991 to $1.08 in 2001 and as proposed for 2002.