County to Buy Buses

County to Buy Buses

7-2 vote approves 22-bus fleet.

Two supervisors do not want Loudoun to own its own commuter buses. Seven supervisors do, so the county is making the $9.5 million purchase for a 22-bus fleet, using a combination of state and local funds.

"All of it comes to the private initiative and getting the government out of this," said Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) at the July 21 Board of Supervisors meeting, adding that he supports using the funds to contract out additional buses.

Delgaudio and Drew Hiatt (R-Dulles) voted against the purchase, which is estimated to cost the county $3.7 million with the rest coming from State Capital Assistance funds, $2.2 million; the Governor's Congestion Relief Program, $2 million; and Dulles Toll Road revenues, $1.5 million. As of now, the county contracts out equipment, fuel and personnel and has access to a 17-bus fleet through Yellow Transportation, whose contract expires in June 2004.

"We are paying Yellow for their personnel, plus reimbursing them for the lease," said William Bogard (R-Sugarland Run). "Yellow is making a profit on the lease. The person owning the equipment makes a profit."

THE COUNTY BUDGETED $2.8 million for commuter bus services in Fiscal Year (FY) 2004, funding 53 percent of the program through fares and the rest through the gas tax and state funds. By purchasing the buses through a lease-purchase agreement, providing maintenance and contracting out operations, the county is expected to save $15,000 per bus or $300,000 in FY-05. Staff estimated that each bus will require $194,200 in expenditures in FY-05 under the current contract and $179,100 with a county-owned fleet, which will include three reserve buses.

"The rate of fare increase eventually will overtake the rate of increase in costs," said Arie Sky, senior budget analyst, adding that the increase is about 5 percent a year. The fare increases have not affected ridership, which continued on a steady incline from 118,000 riders in 1997 to 305,000 riders this year even with a 25 percent fare increase in January 2003.

"Competition helps drive costs down," said Charles Harris (D-Broad Run), explaining that county ownership will stimulate competition since contractors will not be required to provide the equipment.

The current program requires contractors to maintain a dedicated fleet for the county, and most contractors do not have the resources to secure a fleet on the scale required by the county, the information item states.

"In the end, the government holds all of the cards," Hiatt said, adding that government control eliminates competition.

Harris mentioned the problems the county has had with quality of buses, their capacity and breakdowns. "This measure will save taxpayer money [and] increase service," said Mark Herring (D-Leesburg) in agreement.

IN OTHER BUSINESS, the Board of Supervisors:

* Opposed a proposed toll cap increase by Toll Road Investors Partnership II, L.P., owners of the Dulles Greenway. The partnership petitioned the State Corporation Commission to raise the cap from $2 to $3 per trip for cars and to $6 for vehicles with three or more axles.

"I'm very concerned about this issue and the added burden that can be placed on those using the [toll] road," York said, adding that the toll may encourage toll road users to use alternate roads that already are "jam packed." "We can't afford the traffic on the other road networks," he said.

CFO Rick Froehlich said the partnership carries a $400 million debt burden for the toll road, which cost $350 million to build. Being able to increase the toll will help the partnership pay off the current debt and reduce future debt, he said.

"I have trouble putting constraints on them on how they plan to raise revenue," said James Burton (I-Mercer). "This is a private road."

Harris said he cannot support a cap raise without staggered fees that would be charged according to distance. In response, Froehlich said implementing a distance pricing system would cost millions of dollars.

* Opposed a proposed commuter tax by the District of Columbia, which is "reported to be considering a lawsuit in an effort to impose an income tax upon non-residents of the District" who work there, as stated in the information item.

"They already are being compensated," Hiatt said, mentioning a 9-cent parking tax and the federal funds that are provided for tourism within the District. "This has the potential to degenerate into a jurisdiction over jurisdiction battle of who's going to tax who."

* Approved three amendments to the Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program, which encourages landowners to sell the development rights of their land through conservation easements and helps the county preserve its cultural, natural and agricultural resources. The amendments incorporate the policies of the Revised General Plan, target properties with public access and provide additional incentives to leverage county funds for the easement purchases. The incentives encourage program applicants to donate more than 50 percent of the value of the conservation easements and favor applications with more than 50 percent of funding coming from outside grants.

* Approved three of the Economic Development Commission's recommendations to provide work force housing in the county. The commission recommended the county establish a Housing Advisory Board to evaluate housing supply and demand issues, partner with the Industrial Development Authority to finance affordable housing construction and establish a Loudoun Housing Trust to provide a funding source for affordable housing initiatives. County staff will develop an implementation plan to carry out the recommendations for board approval in September.

* Approved Ashburn Active Adult, LLC's request to rezone a 300-acre site south of Route 7 and west of Loudoun County Parkway for an active adult, age-restricted community. The Ashburn firm proposes building up to 1,473 age-restricted, single-family detached, attached and multi-family units, including 68 ADU units, along with a 10-acre town square and 28 acres of public parks and public use areas.

"I'm opposed to converting commercial land to residential," said Burton, who voted against the rezoning.

* Awarded a $20.9 million contract to Howard Shockey & Sons to construct the Adult Detention Center at the County Government Support Center, a contract that includes a 192-bed detention facility and the site work.

* Heard a report from Housing Services staff on the Affordable

Dwelling Unit (ADU) Program, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. The program has helped more than 585 residents purchase homes and another 205 residents rent since the board established the program in July 1993 to supply affordable housing in the county. The program has provided $55 million in housing, which retailed at $150 million, with the average purchase price at $110,000, though the program can qualify residents for up to $140,000.

Another 300 families are on a waiting list to participate in the program.