Can They Do It?

Can They Do It?

Last Thursday, the Citizens for Catoctin County (CCC) released a fiscal impact study analyzing the viability of the proposed Catoctin County, which would be formed out of western Loudoun County. The study, prepared by Michael Siegel of Public and Environmental Finance Associates, an independent agency, was created to answer the question, "Could a new Catoctin County sustain itself financially?"

A handful of citizens came out to the April 13 press conference at the Purcellville Train Station to hear the study's results and to hear members of CCC speak about the group's goals. For Timothy Wyant, head of CCC's economic and boundaries committee, the study answered its question with a resounding yes.

"If you were to divide the county right now," he said, "you would have two financially sound counties."

Wyant told attendees that Catoctin County would look exactly like many of the other counties in Virginia's Piedmont region, both in size as well as in population. The new Loudoun County, formed from what is now eastern Loudoun, would have a population that is at least 10 times the nine other counties in the region, Wyant said.

While Spiegel's study showed the a Catoctin County could be financially viable, it would require a single tax increase of $130 for Catoctin County residents and a $25 increase for residents of eastern Loudoun.

"The tax increase would give up the opportunity to moderate the incredible increases in taxes," Wyant said. "Catoctin County would have a real opportunity to moderate the growth and a $130 increase would look pitifully small in comparison."

The tax increases would make up for lost revenue during the division, the study said.

The study was based on a line-by-line analysis of the county's fiscal year 2005 and 2006 budgets and calculated the revenues generated and services received by both Catoctin County and what would be the new Loudoun County.

CCC WAS FORMED one year ago by citizens who were growing concerned with Loudoun County's growth and the impact it has on the county's water supply and traffic congestion.

"There was a real consensus about making a positive effort to do something as fair and affective as possible," Wyant said about the decision to propose a new county.

Members of the group continue to be frustrated at what they see as their lack of representation on the Board of Supervisors and the way the government works in Loudoun County.

"Government that was good for Loudoun County in 1990 is not necessarily good for Loudoun County in 2000, 2006, 2008 or 2015," Wyant said.

At last Thursday's press conference, Lovettsville resident and farmer Malcolm Baldwin called the county "development run amok."

"Loudoun has failed its citizens in both the east and the west," he said. "We need a structure that represents the interests of western Loudoun."

Purcellville Councilman Karl Phillips compared the political infrastructure of Loudoun County to that of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia in the way that the system is out of balance with the needs of the people and is dominated by one area.

"Eastern Loudoun utterly dominates the political system in Loudoun County," he said. "The eastern part does not deliver on the needs of the people in the west."

At least one western Loudoun resident at Thursday press conference was skeptical about the study and the new Catoctin County.

John Ross, a 53-year Loudoun resident, said the board was not totally guilty when it came to the development of Loudoun County. Ross said he remembered how supervisors fought the creation of both Sugarland Run and Sterling Park.

"There are a lot of assumptions in this study," he said. "The county is going to have to be very forgiving when it comes to a lot of things like schools and public safety."

THERE IS currently no Virginia law that allows for the creation of a new county, only laws that allow for the creation new towns and new cities. So while it is the existing laws that CCC's study is based on, there is no way to know what will actual happen if the formation of Catoctin County moves forward.

Under the current code, when new cities are formed the cities are entitled to the tax money accrued in their city.

If formed, Catoctin County will also have to create its own county government, Sheriff's office, fire and rescue department and school system. In the transition period between seceding and forming its new government, the new county would have to enter into an agreement with Loudoun County to continue to uses its building and services.

"There is nothing new about that," Wyant said. "That's the way it works when new cities or counties are formed."

There is no indication as to what Loudoun County would allow if the secession was granted and requests for comments from various county agencies went unanswered.

The next step towards secession is for CCC to get legislation passed in the Virginia General Assembly that would allow local communities to separate and form a new county and a new governing body. Wyant said the group will be "seriously launching" a push this summer to find a representative in the state government in time for the assembly's next session. He added that copies of the fiscal impact study were given to Loudoun legislators in the assembly.

Wyant acknowledged that the study is not necessarily realistic because things within the county are constantly changing.

"This is based on if you could split the county right now, magically in five minutes," he said. "It shows that it could be an economically viable county. But it is not just automatic to make a new county. We have a long road in front of us."