The Board of Supervisors dug into the county government side of the proposed FY14 budget Monday night, making cuts to some programs while adding funding to some priority areas.
Supervisors were able to make their way through all of the county agencies, leaving review of just the schools budget and the Capital Improvement Program for work sessions scheduled next week. Thursday, the board will tackle miscellaneous budget items, including Transient Occupancy Tax-funded projects.
The Department of Library Services saw two of its positions cut by supervisors as an offset to an enhancement it will receive in the FY14 budget, and Extension Services avoided the removal of the county’s 4-H program from its budget. In the review of contributions to nonprofits, both the Alzheimer’s Association of the National Capital Region and the American Red Cross of the National Capital Region saw their allocations eliminated by supervisors.
Included in the budget for FY14 was more than $420,000 to improve the maintenance of fields at the county’s elementary and middle schools and around $89,000 to fund the Rural Economic Development Strategy. The board also chose to fill the gap needed to keep Virginia Regional Transit running in the county after September, when federal money will run out.
With many questions raised about the county policy Monday night, supervisors have decided to review the entirety of the county’s vacancy savings requirement for departments during an upcoming Finance, Government Services and Operations Committee.
“That is a negative budget line item,” County Administrator Tim Hemstreet said. “We budget 95 to 96 percent of salaries. For FY14 [the vacancy savings] item is $8.57 million. That negative number is distributed out to all departments and they have vacancy target they have to meet. That number is used to balance the budget.”
But concerns were raised that the forced vacancy savings—meaning departments must keep open some positions approved in their budget—forces others area of department budgets to increase. That is particularly true for the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office and Loudoun County Fire-Rescue, which must back fill those positions with existing employees who are then paid overtime.
Frozen positions to meet vacancy savings also have an impact on departments like Building & Development where inspectors are facing an increased workload of between 11,000 and 12,000 inspections in the coming year in addition to picking up inspections for state permits following action of the General Assembly.
Hemstreet noted that there is natural attrition of employees during a fiscal year that helps with vacancy savings, just not at the level set by the county policy. “$8.57 million is probably too high. If you halved it we would probably hit it naturally,” he said.
Virginia Regional Transit
The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to include $495,903 in the FY14 budget to cover the shortfall needed to keep Virginia Regional Transit running in the county.
Late last year the county and VRT were informed that a new classification in the 2010 U.S. Census moved Loudoun into an urban cluster, making it ineligible for the federal rural transportation funding it had been receiving to pay for VRT’s service. Since that time county staff and staff from the Town of Leesburg have been working to find a way to offset that loss of funding.
According to the county’s finance staff, the total cost of VRT service in the county is just under $5 million for FY14. Funding from local, state and federal gasoline tax, a VRT fare increase from 50 cents to $1 and one-time grants has covered a bulk of the costs, leaving only the $496,000 needing funding. The county has applied for a state grant from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, but that will not be awarded until the summer. If the county receives that funding, the $496,000 will decrease further.
With new routes for VRT originally proposed to be paid for by the county funding and to support the planned Metro rail line, the board has decided it would schedule work sessions to examine the county’s entire transportation network—cars, buses and trains.
“We need to start sitting down and looking at everything that is going on and really start rethinking all these services and how they are going to relate to rail and our growth in pop in the county,” Chairman Scott K. York (R-At Large) said.
Rural Economic Business Development Strategy
After two years of work by members of the Rural Economic Development Council and western Loudoun producers, the Board of Supervisors elected to fund the implementation of the Rural Economic Business Development Strategy to the tune of $89,677.
The board was unanimous in its support for $26,700 in funding for the implementation, but was split on whether to fund create a new position in the Department of Economic Development to oversee the strategy. With 3.7 full-time equivalent positions already dedicated to the rural economy, of the 20 positions in the department, some supervisors questioned why existing resources could not be reallocated. But department director Tom Flynn said the workload is too heavy to use existing staff.
“To accomplish the strategy, we need to free [Agricultural Development Officer] Kellie [Boles] up so she can go out and do the strategy as well as the business development side,” he said. “Currently, she would have to make a choice—to meet with a new farmer or a winery looking to expand or spend time on the equine strategy, or working with consultant on the Loudoun farmer’s market. That is the choice she would have to make.”
But that was not enough to convince some supervisors.
“I hear you, but I don’t agree with you,” Supervisor Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn) said, noting he met with some of the staff members. “I am not convinced that you are fully utilizing them… We have 20 people in DED and four are devoted to the rural economy. That’s 20 percent. But the rural economy does not create 20 percent of our taxbase in our county. It creates a lot less than that. I would in many respects say that rural is getting more than its fair share today.”
Other supervisors argued that building the rural economy is important to ensure that the rural areas can remain that way and property owners are not compelled to sell to developers for more homes that will increase the costs to the county.
“If you don’t give them the resources to work the plan then the plan will not work,” Supervisor Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin) said. “If we do not then I think we’re being penny wise and pound foolish. If we could expand economic activities in that area, we have great potential for the entire county.”
Ultimately, the board voted 5-4 to fund the position, with Supervisors Ken Reid (R-Leesburg), Suzanne Volpe (R-Algonkian), Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles) and Vice Chairman Shawn Williams (R-Broad Run) voting no.
School Athletic Fields
Following up on a February discussion in which supervisors agreed not to fund the School Board’s request to install more artificial turf fields, the board voted unanimously to allocate $427,866 to the Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Services to increase the maintenance of fields at the county’s elementary and middle schools to a Priority 2.5 level. Of that money, $130,000 would be a one-time expenditure to acquire for new equipment.
A Priority 2.5 level, which was created specifically to increase utilization of the school fields, would require fields to be dragged once per week, if scheduled for use; lines painted at the beginning of the season by the parks department and maintained by the leagues; fertilized and aerated twice a year by the parks department; have the parks department in charge of reseeding the grass; and have the Loudoun County Public Schools adopt the parks department standard of 2.5 to 3.5 inches for mowing.
Supervisors said it was an important function to fund to help increase availability of fields for private sports and youth leagues.
“This creates a new level of services at all fields that are school fields that PRCS operates,” Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles) said. “This in conjunction with the [Capital Improvement Plan on irrigating 25 fields] really will make a dent into the use of fields and what we are getting out of them as a county.”
In FY14, the Department of Library Services is expected to receive funding for new sorting equipment to be installed at the Cascades and Ashburn library branches, matching what is in place at the new Gum Spring Library off Rt. 50. However, with that enhancement—and the efficiencies expected to come with it—prompted some supervisors to question why positions were not proposed for reduction as an offset.
Supervisor Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn) noted that when he saw a demonstration of the sorting equipment he was told that it did the work of two full-time equivalent positions. “I can see how it does. There is a lot of work that machine does,” he said. But he questioned then where the reduction of four positions was in the library budget.
Library Director Chang Liu said those positions would be assigned, eliminating four positions through attrition and replacing them with new positions in needed areas of the library system.
“The needs are still increasing in the community for library services,” she said. “Though we did the best planning in staffing at Gum Spring we are completely overwhelmed. We are using staff from other branches. Even in existing branches we are overwhelmed. In Ashburn in the children’s program we have 90 to 120 children in story time. And that is just too many for one story time.”
Buona made a motion to eliminate two positions from the library system to partially offset the FY14 enhancement. The board was split on the issue with Supervisors Geary Higgins, (R-Catoctin), Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles), Janet Clarke (R-Blue Ridge) and Chairman Scott K. York (R-At Large) voting against.
The board made a handful of changes to the list of regional organizations and nonprofits that would be receiving funding in the FY14 budget, including adding one to the list for funding.
Following supervisors discussion of nonprofit funding last week, county staff members discovered that the application from Loudoun Youth, Inc. had been submitted on time, but had been kicked into a junk email folder and was never reviewed. County administration put the application through the same review other applications received, and found that it ranked second out of the total list of 38 applicants.
Because of that, supervisors voted to include $5,000 in the FY14 budget, the level given to all new organizations to receive county funding. Supervisors Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles) and Janet Clarke (R-Blue Ridge) voted against the motion.
Clarke took issue with funding Loudoun Youth, Inc. when the board had declined to reinstate funding for the Waterford Foundation or the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship. “So we’re going to consider voting for an organization that runs band events and so forth, but not for programs that supports the scouts or that schools use for education for our students. OK,” she said.
But other supervisors said the work of Loudoun Youth, Inc. goes far beyond entertainment activities.
“I have seen up close and personal the outreach that Loudoun Youth has done,” Supervisor Suzanne Volpe (R-Algonkian) said. “Talk to Family Services…Loudoun Youth is one of the ways we find out about kids who are homeless, for example. They are trying to stabilize some of these kids. It is not just about band concerts.”
However, at the motion of Volpe the board voted to remove funding for the Alzheimer’s Association National Capital Area Chapter and the American Red Cross in the National Capital Region. Volpe made the motion saying she was concerned that funding regional chapters does not ensure any of the money will make it back to Loudoun.
“If we’re going to donate money to an organization, why not donate to an organization that will actually do work here in our county,” she said.
The Loudoun Red Cross chapter does receive money directly from the budget, a level the county’s finance staff is about $38,000 through the local gasoline tax.
The board also removed $5,000 for Special Olympics Loudoun County, with supervisors arguing a high level of county staff support already goes to the organization—something they support.
“I know this is a very, very good organization,” Letourneau, who made the motion, said. “I am not saying it is wrong that we support them through staff. But since we already do provide support I think it is prudent that we remove it here.”