What lies ahead in 2004 will be partially driven by the new Board of Supervisors and School Board, along with the area's economic, residential and commercial growth and the county's level of service delivery to meet that growth.
“The next board can do whatever it wants to, but it must follow the state code process,” said county administrator Kirby Bowers.
During campaigning last fall, candidates for the Board of Supervisors debated the actions taken by the former board during its 2000-03 term. Eight of the nine Supervisors promised in 1999 to do something about the county's continual growth rate and the changes that growth brings. They campaigned on a smart growth platform to manage residential development and preserve the county's landscape and quality of life.
While in office, the supervisors adopted a Revised Comprehensive Plan, a 20-year land use and transportation planning document, and a revised zoning ordinance to carry out their campaign goals.
“The majority of people approved what the board did. That’s why they returned two incumbent supervisors, Sally [Kurtz] and me. They agreed with the philosophy and decisions we made,” said Supervisor James Burton (I-Mercer).
HOWEVER, former supervisor William Bogard, who was not reelected to represent the Sugarland Run District, doubts the new board will hold to its promises. “If they hold true to their election promises of smart growth, then nothing will happen to the Comprehensive Plan,” he said, explaining his concern. “Look at how much money they got from the development community. If you don’t think there’s going to be paybacks expected, you’re out of your mind. … I have no doubt they are going to try to increase the [county’s zoning] densities.”
The Revised Comprehensive Plan, which the board adopted in July 2001, reduces densities in several areas of the county to cut overall residential growth by 47 percent from the 1991 plan. Twenty-seven percent of the reductions are in the suburban eastern end of the county and 77 percent in the western end, a rural area with six small towns.
New board members disagreed about making drastic changes to the plan. “Nobody wants to see us go back to the way things were,” said Supervisor D.M. “Mick” Staton (R-Sugarland Run), about the county’s rapid pace of growth in the 1990s. “The Comprehensive Plan has created an east-west divide. … Land west of Route 659 is virtually off limits to new development, and the east is designated as the growth area.”
Staton does not want to see western Loudoun lose its rural character and eastern Loudoun become too dense in development, he said. “No one expects growth to be stopped. It has to be managed.”
Likewise, chairman Scott York (R-At large) has hope for the future of the Revised Comprehensive Plan. "With land use, we have made significant progress in addressing the fiscal and transportation ills that accompany overdevelopment," he said in his 2003 year-end remarks at the Dec. 15 Board of Supervisors meeting. "There is, however, more work that needs to be done, and I am encouraged from the words I have heard from our incoming board members on not wanting to reverse this progress. Quite frankly, we cannot fiscally afford to do so."
THE FUTURE of the Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program is at stake with the new board, since in their campaigns, several board members said they wanted to eliminate the program. The PDR program encourages landowners to sell the development rights of their land through conservation easements, a way for the county to preserve its cultural, natural, historic and agricultural resources.
Chairman candidate Bob Gordon did not find much support for the program from the Republican Party and his door-to-door campaigning, noting a perceived lack of public access and a perception that the properties included in the program already are planned for non-development, he said.
During the former board's term, it approved open space easements for six properties totaling 1,695 acres in FY 2003 and 1,440 acres in FY 2002, the first year of the program.
Some of the new board members promised lower taxes and plan to encourage a zero-based budget and review of county spending during the 2004-07 term. County treasurer Roger Zurn has told candidates during their campaigning that the last audit of the county’s budget was conducted 10 years ago.
Bruce Tulloch (R-Potomac) campaigned on wanting to "cut out the fat and put money where it needs to be" and bring "financial responsibility back to the budget."
“The budget certainly represents a challenge. It will be a top priority for me personally and [for] this board,” said Lori Waters (R-Broad Run) following the board orientation session on Dec. 13, 2003. “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.”
"The budget challenges that the new board will be facing and balancing the need for county services, the growth in the county and new schools with the ability to pay for these things" will be some of the top issues in 2004, said Jim Barnes, director of public information for the county.
“I think clearly the prime topic is going to be what kind of budget the board adopts,” Burton said. The Board of Supervisors “will clearly have to raise taxes,” but the question will be how high, though some of the new board members had promised in their campaigns not to raise taxes, he said. The new board will realize that taxes will have to be raised to cover county growth once they get into the details of the budget, he added.
As for other top issues, Burton said they will depend on “what the agenda is for the new board members. They haven’t been very talkative about that. I guess we’ll find out in our first meeting in January.”
THE BOARD of Supervisors will face the school's and county's budget as they begin work this month. The Superintendent’s Proposed Operating Budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2005 offers a $101.36 million or 26 percent increase to the public school's operating budget to accommodate enrollment growth, three new schools and additional state requirements.
"It's going to be extremely difficult for the Board of Supervisors to say yes to an operating budget request that is $88 million more than the current amount," said Geurin after the first budget work session on Dec. 2, 2003. He referred to the local tax increase from $294.43 million in FY 2004 to $383.05 million as proposed for FY 2005. Including other funding sources, the budget is proposed at $491.57 million.
The increase "has no chance whatsoever," Burton said. "It's too large of an increase for one year.”
The superintendent's request with estimated debt service and county expenses will require a 20-cent increase in the local or real property tax rate, which is currently at $1.11, as Bowers initially estimated in December 2003. Every cent of the tax rate will account for $5 million in the FY 2005 budget, so that three cents will be needed for county expenses and 18 to 19 cents for schools to fund current estimates.
"Obviously that will not happen," Bowers said. "I can't imagine any governing body coming in here increasing the tax rate by that much. ... I wouldn't propose that."
The School Board will continue reviewing the budget in work sessions this January to adopt by Jan. 13. The Board of Supervisors will adopt the budget for both the schools and the county and set the tax rate on April 5.