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Budget Protest

Residents, employees fight budget cuts.

Don’t make any more cuts was the message the Board of Supervisors got from most of the 82 Loudoun residents and employees who spoke at Thursday’s budget public hearing.

Parent organization representatives, school and county employees, and board members from various county agencies had three minutes to tell the supervisors what they thought about the proposed Fiscal Year 2004 operating budget, which as of now is $802 million for schools and county government. Most of the comments during the five-and-a-half-hour public hearing regarded the county’s school system and social services.

“Where would you envision cutting this?” asked Claire Shultz, president of the Loudoun Education Association, referring to the school system’s budget.

COUNTY ADMINISTRATOR Kirby Bowers recommended the county provide the school system with $407.6 million, $19 million less than what the School Board requested. Following the recommendation of the Board of Supervisors, Bowers kept the budget to a 1 percent increase in local per-student funding, or $22 million.

To achieve Bowers’ recommendation, Shultz asked the supervisors if class size would have to be increased, programs eliminated or the proposed salary increase cut. “I don’t see $19.3 million of waste in this budget,” she said.

Stewart Curley, parent of two children, said the proposed school budget is bleak with most of the increase covering the costs of growth. “We can’t fall back. Our teachers are paid less than teachers in other jurisdictions,” he said.

Patti Morrisey, parent and delegate candidate for the 32nd district, said the raises teachers received last year covered increased health insurance costs. “Now is not the time to cut back” even if the state is not doing its part, she said. “State government has seriously under funded public education. … You have had to fill in the gaps.”

Parents and teachers asked the supervisors to maintain the school system’s competitiveness and quality of education and gave their support for a tax increase to fully fund the school budget.

“A child’s education can’t have a price tag. There is no justification for not fully funding the school budget,” said Cheryl Bacak, also a parent.

SEVERAL SPEAKERS commented on the budget for county government in the areas of social services, parks and recreation, library services, and fire and rescue.

Scott Stewart, president of the Ashburn Library Board, told the supervisors he would not ask them for additional money for the library, but “we ask you not to consider reducing the proposal.”

The budget for library services already took a hit last year with a $500,000 county cut that resulted in reduced hours and staff, said Marc Leepson of the Board of Trustees. “The county cannot absorb any more budget cuts,” he said, adding that in an economic downturn, usage of the county’s libraries increases placing more demand on library services.

Supervisor James Burton (I-Mercer) said the board will have to weigh the public hearing comments before making a “difficult” decision. “There’s going to be a 15 percent tax increase at the minimum no matter what we do,” he said.

Burton referred to the combined 8 percent increase in assessments with the 5.5-cent tax increase proposed by Bowers, who advertised a tax rate of $1.16 to fully fund the school budget and recommended a $1.105 tax rate. “You can’t keep raising taxes 15 percent year after year, especially at a time when the economy has slowed down,” he said.

“I think their request to fully fund the school budget is extremely difficult,” said Supervisor Charles Harris (D-Broad Run). “This board has fully funded the school budget twice. … There are some social service needs that are critical [too].”