County administrator Kirby Bowers reminded the incoming Board of Supervisors that they have an "awesome responsibility."
"The decisions you need to make have no self-evident right answer. You have to make these ultimate decisions for the public," Bowers said at the three-hour Board-Orientation Session on Dec. 13. The board members will have to decide how to balance what taxpayers can afford and are willing to pay with achieving "a quality county," he said.
On Nov. 4, the public elected the nine board members to set county policies, adopt ordinances, approve land rezonings and special exceptions, appropriate funds and carry out the other responsibilities of county government as set by state code.
Bowers and the rest of the county staff want to work with the board on the large issues, but the staff will take care of day-to-day operations, Bowers said. As manager of operations of the county’s departments and agencies, he will work at the pleasure of the board to provide administrative and policy advice and to direct the staff so that the board’s policy decisions, along with state mandates, are carried out. He also will prepare and administer an annual budget that the board will adopt each spring.
COUNTY ATTORNEY Jack Roberts told the board about the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act and the rules of order for business meetings. The "basic rule" for public meetings and county records is openness, he said, adding that the open meeting rule has 31 exceptions and that for records, there are 87 exceptions.
"With records, everything is generally public. What you create and record is part of the public record," Roberts said.
A meeting occurs when three or more members serving on a public body are present and discussing county business or a quorum for bodies of less than three members. The open meeting rule applies to the Board of Supervisors and to any of the board’s committees, including the Planning Commission and the School Board. Board members serve on three board committees, including Finance and Government Services, Land Use, and Transportation and possibly a fourth committee for public safety, as recommended by chairman Scott York (R-At large).
At the board’s first meeting, the board will appoint nine members of the Planning Commission to provide it with advice on land use issues. The board will appoint members of the other county boards and commissions, excluding the School Board, as terms expire or seats become empty.
When conducting meetings, the board will be required to follow Robert’s Rules of Order. At the first meeting of the year, the board will be tasked with selecting a vice-chairman from its membership, setting a meeting schedule and deciding on the rules of order.
"My intent is to keep the schedule as minimal as possible, so we can deal with as much as we can with organizational matters," York said.
Lori Waters (R), board member-elect for the Broad Run District, suggested holding board meetings on Tuesdays instead of on Mondays to align with the date of public hearings, which are held the first Tuesday of the month. The meetings under the current board are on the first and third Mondays of the month. Bowers said he will check on the proposed change, and if conflicts do not arise, the new board can take action at the first meeting, which will still be held on a Monday.
The board will be allowed to hold closed meetings after taking a motion, stating the exemption and identifying the purpose for the meeting, including discussing personnel issues, property negotiations and litigations, without taking any action.
BOWERS BRIEFED the board on the county’s fiscal forecast for Fiscal Year (FY) 2005. He projected that revenues for the FY 2004 budget will be $23 million above balance, principally from growth in excise and real property taxes, with expenditures $2 million below budget from savings from personnel vacancies.
"It’s important we have a positive fund balance at the end of the fiscal year," Bowers said, adding that having or not having a balance will affect the county’s bond rating.
Bowers estimated the budget for FY 2005 to be $163 million more than this year’s budget of $510 million in local funds. The amount of the increase likely will change upon School Board and Board of Supervisors review, according to both boards. Superintendent of Schools Edgar Hatrick asked in the Superintendent’s Proposed Operating Budget for an additional $97 million in local taxes to accommodate an increase in enrollment and state mandates.
The remainder of the estimated increase comes from debt services, capital construction payments and the county’s operating budget, which Bowers roughly estimated to require another $25 million. New revenue is projected to be $50 million leaving a $113 million gap. The tax rate of $1.11 if maintained next year will provide an estimated $15 million in new revenue.
"You see a gap in potential expenditure increases and what we see for revenue at the current tax rate. … We simply don’t have too many choices to bridge the gap we have," Bowers said. "We have population increases, school population increases, debt service increases."
"The real increase is in debt service. That reflects ongoing … growth," said Ben Mays, budget officer.
BOARD MEMBERS reflected on the orientation-session during a short comment period and in separate interviews.
"I look forward to working with all of you for the next four years," York said. The board members will not always agree, but "when the gavel is down and the meeting is over," the board should continue to have a friendship and be able to work together, he said.
"We all have a mighty task ahead of us. … It’s obvious to me the challenges are many and the answers are few," said Bruce Tulloch (R), board member-elect for the Potomac District. "It will be my honor to work with you on all of these issues."
"The budget certainly represents a challenge. It will be a top priority for me personally and this board," Waters said. "Taxes was the reason I got involved in the campaign, and I think families are concerned about skyrocketing tax bills. And I don’t want to let my constituents down by continuing with tax and spend as usual."
Sally Kurtz (D-Catoctin) said she looks forward to hearing the board members’ ideas and working with them. "I think we all have a lot of learning [to do]," she said.
Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) and board members-elect Stephen Snow (R), Dulles, and D.M. "Mick" Staton (R), Sugarland Run, also attended the meeting, with incumbent James Burton (I-Mercer) and Jim Clem (R), Leesburg, absent.
"It’s routine for me, but it’s good to see the new people welcomed," Delgaudio said.