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Votes

$16 Million Here, $44 Million There

Supervisors slice into proposed school and county budgets.

In their push to keep the real estate tax rate at $1.11, members of the Board of Supervisors are likely to erode the county school system and the overall level of government service, county executives said.

“With the demand we’re seeing from the additional population, we will not be able to meet that same level of service,” said County Administrator Kirby Bowers. “We’re going to be operating with thinner margins and less flexibility.”

At the $1.11 rate, both the county school system and the county government will receive significantly less than originally proposed. The school system would be allocated $349 million, which is $16.2 million less than the School Board requested. The county government is expected to receive $44 million less than originally recommended.

The Republican majority on the board said their actions should not be seen as cuts, but rather as enhancements because in most cases the funding levels exceed that of the previous year, but do not account for rising costs and Loudoun’s skyrocketing population.

Because county agencies will be funded at levels less than requested, the agencies will be forced to streamline their operations to work just as hard with less money, said Supervisor Bruce Tulloch (R-Potomac), vice chair of the board.

“I believe it’s time for Loudoun County to become more efficient,” Tulloch said.

Conservative members of the board, most of whom were elected for the first time last November, said they are the antidote to a perceived lack of fiscal restraint on the part of previous boards.

“They threw money at problems rather than managing problems,” said Supervisor Stephen Snow (R-Dulles). “Don’t give me this ‘quality is going down’ stuff. You’ve got to manage better.”

Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) agreed, saying the Republican majority is helping to keep taxes low for Loudoun citizens.

“This board is different from previous boards,” Delgaudio said. “This board has saved tens of millions of dollars in the last few months and I predict that we will be saving tens of millions of dollars in the future.”

Bowers, however, said the population of Loudoun County is exploding, with 15,000 to 20,000 new residents, leading to an immediate need for increased resources to meet the service requirements of the community.

TO ACCOUNT for the funding reductions, the county government is seeking to eliminate vacant staff positions rather than be forced to lay off employees. Employee cuts may be on the horizon, however, as the board continues to reduce funding in such areas as the Office of Public Information and in contractual services.

“It’s almost counter-intuitive that when you have increased demands from an increasing population, that you would cut staffing,” Bowers said.

Monday night, the board informally voted to eliminate the county’s Exceptional Achievement Awards for Loudoun employees. The board also gave its tentative approval to set Cost of Living Adjustments at 1 percent and to reduce Pay for Performance increases for county employees to 2 percent.

Morale among Loudoun employees is expected to tank, Bowers said, because of the increased workload and diminished resources.

“There’s no question that our employees are concerned, apprehensive — whatever you want to call it,” he said.

The county school system will probably also be forced to cut into teacher salaries and benefits, which comprise about 87 percent of the school budget, said Edgar Hatrick, superintendent of Loudoun schools.

“It would be difficult, if not impossible, to find a $16 million reduction without touching those things,” Hatrick said. “The more reductions are made, the more we will have to go into teacher salaries.”

Supervisor Lori Waters (R-Broad Run) urged Hatrick and the Loudoun County School Board to go through their budget line by line to find reductions other than teacher salaries because she said Loudoun schools must remain competitive to attract the best teachers.

Waters suggested as a reduction to reduce the level of pay increases allotted to school administrators earning more than $100,000 a year.

DEMOCRAT JIM BURTON, the supervisor representing the Blue Ridge district, said the budget reductions at the $1.11 real estate tax rate represent the first steps of the decline of the county’s quality of life.

“We owe the county better than this and I think we can do better than this,” Burton said. “This is too much. It’s too drastic.”

Waters, on the other hand, said the time has come to take drastic measures.

“It’s time we got our hands around this fiscal monster,” she said.