The proposed Loudoun County budget for Fiscal Year 2005 was unveiled Tuesday, emphasizing increases in school funding and public safety for the nation’s second fastest growing county.
In order to receive full funding for the $1.096 billion budget, the real property tax rate would have to be set at $1.19 — an 8 cent increase from the existing rate, said County Administrator Kirby M. Bowers, who presented the proposed budget to the Board of Supervisors.
The proposed 8 cent real property tax increase would impact the average homeowner’s tax bill by 18 percent — or $633. In January, assessor Bill Gardner reported that the average residential assessments have increased by 12 percent this year.
About 74 percent of the local tax revenue would be required to fund Loudoun County Public Schools, while 26 percent would go toward the general services the Loudoun County government provides.
“The population is still growing, as are the demands for service,” Bowers said. “The county continues to face significant challenges resulting from the increasingly high demand for public services, along with changing service patterns, requirements, and citizens’ expectations.”
That growth needs to be addressed by the tax increase, Bowers said, or government services will inevitably be cut.
“The focus is on making sure our core services are being maintained,” he said.
LOUDOUN COUNTY’S population is projected to continue growing by 12,000 to 15,000 new residents over the next several years, with children being the fastest growing demographic. Each year, school attendance increases by about 4,000 students, or about 10 percent annually.
With such a steady influx of new students, Loudoun schools need to compensate with major funding increases, Bowers said.
Overall, the proposed budget would increase the school system’s budget by $93.8 million over the previous year, increasing per pupil spending from $9,708 to $10,650.
“The schools are the 100-pound gorilla here,” said Ari J. Sky, an assistant budget officer who helped draft the proposed budget. “The school’s consume 70 percent of the local tax funding.”
Among the major education expenditures being sought is the construction of 17 new schools over the next five years and the renovation of seven existing school buildings.
The 17 new schools would include 11 elementary schools, three middle schools and three high schools. These capital projects would cost an estimated $575 million.
EMERGENCY SERVICES and the Sheriff's Office would also receive major funding increases if the proposed budget is adopted.
As with schools, emergency services have to keep up with the exploding population, Sky said.
“The emphasis is really on public safety,” he said. “They need additional support because they aren’t able to keep up with the growth.”
Loudoun Fire and Rescue once was a volunteer force, but it is transitioning more and more to a paid service because the thousands of new residents simply aren’t volunteering as emergency workers, said Howard Dawley, deputy chief of Loudoun Fire and Rescue.
The proposed budget would allocate the department an additional $3,175,000 to help fund the transition and to ease the strain put on the services from the population spike.
In the past, volunteers lived in Loudoun County and worked in Loudoun County. Now, however, many residents commute elsewhere to work, making it difficult for them to volunteer locally, Dawley said.
“It’s hard for us to compete with all the other, new things to do in Loudoun,” he said.
Also, local business owners would allow their employees more flexibility in their schedules so they could volunteer, Dawley said. Now, many residents are employed by corporations based elsewhere, that generally don’t care if their employees volunteer with the local firefighting company.
If the funding doesn’t come through at the proposed levels, Dawley said, residents can expect slower response times to emergencies.
“We asked for what we needed. Not what we wanted — what we needed,” he said.
LOUDOUN RESIDENTS can expect a bitter fight over the proposed real property tax increase.
Supervisor Mick Staton (R-Sugarland Run) said he adamantly opposes any tax increase, instead vowing to reduce the real property tax if at all possible.
“It’s definitely time we did a little belt tightening around here,” he said.
On the other end of the tax debate, however, Supervisor Jim Burton (I-Blue Ridge) said it is the government’s role to provide certain services to citizens and, without a tax increase, that will be impossible.
“The only way to hold the line on taxes would be to gut social services and education and I think that would just be criminal,” Burton said.
It’s too soon to tell how all of the supervisors will vote, but a showdown over taxes is inevitable, Burton said.
Board Chairman Scott K. York (I-At Large) said he thinks the debate needs to center on the role of real estate developers and whether they are paying their fair share.
“The taxpayers’ shoulders are being stuck with this and that’s just ridiculous,” he said.