It's budget season and with the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors and School Board in full budget mode, the Town of Leesburg proposed its fiscal 2014-2015 biennial budget at a Feb. 26 meeting.
The proposed budget, presented by Town Manager John Wells, covers the traditional funds, including the general and utilities funds and the Town's capital improvement program, which includes the capital budget.
Several years ago when the recession hit, the Town of Leesburg's debt climbed and property values declined.
As a result, Wells proposed a plan last year and Town Council subsequently approved the plan to ensure long term stability in the budget and deferring many of the debt service payments until fiscal 2015.
“This budget proposal continues our financial adviser’s recommendation of February 2011, regarding long term fiscal stability which was subsequently adopted by the Town Council in March 2012,” Wells said. “I am pleased to report to you that under your leadership we are making real progress in addressing the town's fiscal challenges while continuing to provide quality municipal services for town residents, businesses, visitors and maintaining tax payer affordability.”
As a result of maintaining the plan, Wells' overall concept for the fiscal 2014-2015 budget is to stay the course.
“This budget I am presenting this evening includes no new positions or new projects,” Wells said.
Highlighting the budget proposal is a slight increase of only 0.5 percent in general fund expenditures, a project increase in revenue of 3 percent and a proposed budget decrease across all funds of approximately 1.2 percent from last year. The tax rate remains unchanged.
Under the long term budget sustainability plan, Wells reported revenues are covering all current expenditures; the town's debt has been restructured to provide debt service cost relief through fiscal 2016; work has continued to find operational efficiencies; existing service levels have been maintained; capital improvement programs have started to stabilize; and the debt service reserve fund was created and funded with operational cost savings.
“Our success with the debt service reserve fund allows me to report to you this evening that based on the work done by town staff, we will be able to reduce our projected tax increases from 5 cents over three years to 2.5 cents over two years,” Wells said.
During his presentation, Wells touched on the economy and how Leesburg is progressing in recovering from the recession.
“When working with this budget, one of the important things we had to keep in mind is what is happening with our local economy. We are seeing an economic recovery. It is very slow and modest, but it is solid and not showing any high peaks or deep valleys,” Wells said. “This will be our third consecutive year of positive growth in the assessments and when we are looking at property values that is an important indication of economic health in a community.
“Business growth continues to be positive as measured in the increased number of business licenses we are seeing as well as disposable income,” Wells said.
One of the most challenging issues with this budget, according to Wells, has been what to do with Leesburg's bus service, which stands to lose federal funds after the Town was reclassified from rural to urban.
Town Council has been trying to find a way to ensure bus services are not removed from the town.
“Probably the most significant item that stands out in this budget deals with the bus services and over the next several weeks we need to determine what kind of bus service we need and where it is going to go,” Wells said. “We are going to need to make sure we are maintaining enough resources in the budget to do what we want to accomplish. So it is a substantial work program and a significant loose end in this budget.”
In an effort to broaden community involvement in the budget process, the town is inviting residents to submit their questions about the budget via the town website.
Residents will receive individual responses to their questions and, as appropriate, submitted questions and answers will be posted on the website and the Town’s Facebook page.
Residents can submit questions at http://www.leesburgva.gov/askbudget