What's to Come for the County?

What's to Come for the County?

Transportation and taxes continue to top list of issues.

As the county and its residents leave 2006, a year that Supervisor Stephen Snow (R-Dulles) called "one of the most dramatic years in Loudoun County's history," many of the issues that faced citizens and the government last year will continue to be the top issues of 2007.

"Right now, everything is cyclical," Snow said.

According to the county's 2005 Annual Growth Summary, the population of Loudoun is estimated to reach 273,488 people, an increase of 6.1 percent over 2006's estimated 257,706 people.

With the growing population, Snow expects land use and development issues, which colored much of the government's 2006 actions, to continue to be controversial.

"There is a component of growth that will still remain contentious," he said.

Supervisor Bruce E. Tulloch (R-Potomac), vice chairman of the board, said that while only 54 houses approved by the current board have been built there is still a lot of development in the county's future.

"There is a large amount of development in the pipeline that could be energized at any time," he said.

He added that the best way for the county to develop is through managed growth and balance.

<sh>Where Rubber Meets the Road

<bt>With continued development and a growing population, transportation and traffic will continue to be a top issue in 2007, Tulloch said.

"We need to move forward in an expeditious manner," he said. "The state needs to make good on its promise to really fund transportation."

During the November elections, residents authorized the Board of Supervisors to design several road construction projects and to move forward on the construction of an interchange at Route 7 and Loudoun County Parkway. Tulloch said that using money for the design of projects will give the county an idea of how much each project will really cost.

"Then we can actually start moving forward," he said.

Snow, who spent a large part of 2006 trying to get developers to pay for most of the road projects the county needed, said the denial of the Transition Policy Area Comprehensive Plan amendment last fall created a lot of questions for 2007.

"Now the question is, 'How are you going to get it?'" he said.

Tulloch said he is also concerned that the state is trying to give responsibility for the secondary road system back to the localities.

"Off loading the secondary road system is not the cure [for transportation]," he said. "It off loads the need for taxes to localities, forcing local governments to raise taxes. Our taxpayers are paying their part. Now Richmond needs to do the job."

<sh>Money, Money, Money

<bt>The beginning of the year, as it is every year, will be consumed with the yearly county budget, Supervisors said. As 2006 drew to a close, the Board of Supervisors and County Administrator Kirby Bowers were predicting a tight budget season, where county department requests for money would be closely looked over in an attempt to keep taxes as low as possible for residents.

"The question now is whether we raise the tax rate to meet the requests or we trim the requests," Supervisor Mick Staton (R-Sugarland Run) said after Bowers presented the first budget scenario, based on the current tax rate, 89 cents per $100 assessed property value.

In his initial presentation Nov. 21, Bowers told the board that the estimated assessed value of a single-family home in 2007 would decrease by 3 percent. In 2006, the average home in the county was assessed at $526,111. In 2007, the number would drop to around $510,317, Bowers estimated.

Bowers told the Supervisors he had identified minimum enhancement needs for county departments at $10.2 million, dropping the public safety requests by more than $30 million. The absolute needs do not include the county school system. Bowers predicted a $60.9 million shortfall in the budget, with a 3 percent decrease in the average tax bill. Bowers also said that a 92 cent tax rate would give the county an additional $29.1 million in revenue, while keeping residents' tax bills virtually the same as this year. A 96.5 cent tax rate would give the county an additional $72.7 million in revenue.

Tulloch said the most important thing to him was holding the line and keeping the quality of county services that residents have come to expect.

"This is not the healthiest of times for the economy," he said. "We are going to see a decline in property values and a drop in county revenue."

While Supervisors are expecting belt tightening in county departments, Snow predicted that the upcoming budget deliberations would be "very difficult" because no one was willing to compromise funding for schools, public safety or other essential programs, such as community centers, which he said were important to bringing people together.

"My citizens expect and want and are willing to pay for the quality," he said.

<sh>Educating and Supporting Youth

<bt>As Loudoun grows so does its youth and teen population and they will need new services in 2007 as well as a continuation of the education they have come to expect.

At the beginning of December, Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick unveiled a $712 million operating budget for fiscal year 2008, creating a potentially problematic situation as the county enters its budget discussions.

"Dr. Hatrick made some very extravagant proposed needs in this budget," Tulloch said. "I don't think that's productive."

Finding a balance between Hatrick's wish list and what the county can actually fund is going to grab a lot of the board's attention as 2007 begins.

"We need to keep our system intact," Tulloch said. "It is not necessary to lead the charge, but to sustain the value of what you are doing."

Tulloch said he believes that in a year of declining county revenue, the school system should hold up on new programs and instead continue to fund existing programs and teachers properly.

"The Board of Supervisors has funded teachers fully for the past three years," he said.

Snow said this year will be an important year for the development of the Loudoun Youth Initiative, including a large fund-raiser to create a "bank account" with which to fund programs for a variety of youth.

Even in an affluent county like Loudoun Snow said it is important to him to take care of youth, providing both opportunities for guidance and social activities. He said studies show affluent youth to be even more susceptible to things such as drugs, alcohol and suicide.

"You would think it is the opposite, but it's not," he said. Instead of waiting for significant events to happen [to teens], we need to open the communication. Kids just want a chance to get things off their chest."

Snow said he hopes to be able to organize more youth events in the 2007, including an idea he has for an international youth forum. He hopes to be able to reach out to youth involved with the foreign embassies in Washington, D.C., and create a two-day event where they could tour the county and sit and talk with local youth about the similar social issues they face.

"If you don't try, you never find solutions," he said.

<sh>New Faces

<bt>This year will also bring the election of a new Board of Supervisors in November. Already, Supervisor Sally Kurtz (D-Catoctin) has announced that she will not pursue a third term as a representative of the western district. Supervisor Mick Staton (R-Sugarland Run) announced at the board's last meeting of 2006 that he would be running for his seat again. There has been no confirmation of election plans from any of the other Supervisors, but Tulloch said the focus of the board should remain on the issues coming before them, not the upcoming election.

"It is about doing the right thing for the citizens and managing their money efficiently," he said.