Leesburg Town Manager John Wells presented his proposed FY14-FY15 budget to the Leesburg Town Council Tuesday night with a simple mantra.
“Stick to the plan,” Wells said in an interview before the presentation. “It’s working.”
The plan—to find savings and put money away to stave off tax rate increases set for FY15—for this year means no new positions and no new projects.
When the recession hit and the town’s debt began to climb, coinciding with declining property values, council laid out a plan, adopted last March, for long-term budget sustainability, deferring much of the debt service payments until FY15. Those payments will kick in fully by FY17.
The plan came with scheduled real estate tax rate increases of 1 cent in FY15, another cent in FY16 and 3 cents in FY17, with the clear stipulation that Wells, when proposing his budgets, should find savings where possible and work to prevent those increases.
The lone big increase in expenditures proposed is adding $100,000 to fund Leesburg’s Virginia Regional Transit bus lines, which will lose federal funding following the reclassification of the town as urban after the 2010 census and making the VRT routes ineligible for the federal rural transportation grants that had funded the operation. The town’s three routes—the Safe-T-Ride, the Leesburg Trolley and the ADA On-Demand Route—will lose approximately $400,000 in funding.
Wells had planned to increase the bus system’s funding to add another Safe-T-Ride bus and increase hours of operation, but that money now will go to keeping the buses running. Wells and the town’s staff have secured a grant from the state to fund 18 percent of the system’s operations; the same amount the state provided before, but that money had gone directly to VRT. Now it will go to the town, which will provide the service.
Wells has proposed allocating $359,374 for the bus services in FY14, an increase from $241,030 this year. However, Wells said, that still leaves a gap of more than $102,000. The proposed county budget also includes funds to keep VRT’s Sycolin Road and Battlefield Parkway routes going, Wells said.
The budget’s conservative spending allowed Wells to cut the projected tax increases in half. The savings allow no rate increase in FY15, maintaining the 1-cent jump in FY16 and slashing the anticipated FY17 increase to 1.5 cents.
The tax rates Wells proposes maintains the current 19.5-cent structure, per $100 of assessed value, slightly higher than the equalized rate of 18.9 cents. All revenues from the difference will be allocated to the debt service reserve fund, Wells said.
“We pretty much held the line in every way,” Wells said. “It’s not a flashy story. This is a nose-to-the-grindstone budget.”