Departments Budgets Under Scrutiny

Departments Budgets Under Scrutiny

Board of Supervisors focuses on public safety agencies and lowering the tax rate during its first budget worksession.

County Administrator Kirby Bowers opened the Board of Supervisors first work session for the proposed fiscal year 2007 budget, by raising the county's total revenue estimate by $20 million. The additional revenue comes from money identified in the sales tax, real property tax and the Business, Professional and Occupation License (BPOL) tax. The new figure reduces the proposed tax rate two more cents to 95 cents, bringing the real property tax rate down 9 cents from fiscal year 2006's rate of $1.04.

Even with the 9-cent drop, many board members want to make the tax rate even lower, aiming for a final rate less than 90 cents.

WORKING FROM THE 95-cent tax rate, the board focused on budget requests from Loudoun County's public safety agencies. The largest request came from the Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Management. The department is requesting $3.053 million to add staff members to several Loudoun County fire and rescue stations, including the new Dulles South station in South Riding, which is scheduled to open in the fall of this year.

"In Dulles South we do not have a ladder company or a truck and staffing that can put big water on a big fire very quickly and get to higher elevations as quick as we need it," Chief Joseph E. Pozzo said. "The closest ladder company comes from Fairfax [County] Station 38. It is 10.5 miles just to the Dulles South station and should we get an alarm in Stonebridge area it's 15.4 miles."

The Dulles South station highlights only some of the staffing problems throughout the county's fire and rescue stations. In total, the department's request would add 58 full-time employees.

In addition to station staffing, the fire and rescue department's requested $3.053 million includes more monetary support for the county's volunteer programs, including adding a volunteer recruitment and retention specialist. During last year, from October 2004 to October 2005, the department gained 200 new volunteers, but lost 198, Pozzo said. The new specialist would be able analyze volunteer program's strategies and work to improve the program's retention rate.

THE DEPARTMENT OF Fire, Rescue and Emergency Management also presented the board with each company's proffer money, contributions given to fire and rescue companies by developers, which totaled $2.55 million. Supervisor Jim Clem (R-Leesburg), who is chairman of the board's public safety committee, made a motion that 10 enhancements be "taken off the table" and the $2.55 million proffer money be used to fund the fire and rescue department's request.

"While the fire and rescue budget needs to take its cuts just like everyone else, we have this proffer money," Clem said. "It is close to the requested $3.053 million."

In a friendly amendment, Supervisor Jim Burton (I-Blue Ridge) moved to apply the proffer money to the $3.053 million enhancements and take additional needs from the general fund.

"I believe that the package that is on the table is a package that basically prevents the system from going backwards," Burton said. "I don't know if it increases our capability or not, but I think it stops it from collapsing."

The board voted 8-1-0 in support of Burton's amended motion, which will be discussed further in the next board meeting.

GARY CLEMENS, Clerk of the Circuit Court, requested an additional $63,000, which would allow for one additional bookkeeper. This employee would aid in the purchasing, budget and financial duties of the clerk's office, including collecting money on overdue restitution's and court fines. The position is currently being filled by an employee from the land records division.

"We cannot overlook the workload increases that my office has experienced each and every year," Clemens said in his presentation to the board.

To support his request, Clemens cited his office's clean audit, the best findings since 1996 and that the clerk's office collected $88.5 million in revenues, ranking them third in the state.

Following a motion by Supervisor Lori Waters (R-Broad Run) the board voted 5-4-0 to carry over Clemens' request for a bookkeeper as a part-time position rather than a full-time employee.

As a last statement, Clemens said, "I don't make this request lightly. I wouldn't make it if I thought it wasn't necessary."

BUDGET WORK SESSIONS will continue Wednesday, March 15, at 6:30 p.m. The board will continue to discuss requests from public safety agencies, including the Sheriff's Office, and will begin hearing presentations from community services and community development agencies.