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The recent editorial published by the Loudoun Times-Mirror on Feb. 26, 2014, presents a false choice between the Loudoun County Public Schools budget and the Silver Line extension. It also indicates a significant lack of understanding on the part of the editors on the way municipal governments operate. 

First, and perhaps most important, the editorial fails to recognize the distinction between operating and capital expenditures. As any other jurisdiction in Virginia, Loudoun County is required to have essentially two budgets - an operating budget and a capital budget. Funding for Metro - regardless of the source - comes from the capital budget. The LCPS budget in question is the operating budget. The Board of Supervisors has repeatedly shown its commitment to funding LCPS capital projects, including this year’s proposed budget, which essentially fully funds the School Board’s six-year, $651 million capital request.

If we consider the amount of funding the Board will provide to education in Fiscal Year 2015, for both operating and capital expenditures, it will easily surpass $1 billion. The Proposed Fiscal Plan includes over $910 million in operating funds and over $110 million in capital funds. Taken together, just one year’s appropriation for LCPS is more than four times the capital cost of Metrorail. Financing Metro has zero effect on the school operating budget.

There is no relationship between the two: it’s an apples-to-oranges comparison.

The editorial also seems to assume that the Board of Supervisors has conducted no planning or long-range strategy for Metrorail and the areas immediately surrounding it. While we understand that LTM is now under new editorial leadership, it is nevertheless rather irresponsible to completely ignore a process which spanned over two decades and five boards of supervisors as well as extensive community input leading up to the board’s decision in 2012 to finalize our involvement in the Silver Line extension.

Once the decision to remain in the project was made, our goal became finding the most cost-effective means to pay for it. A simple review of your own paper’s past reporting - including at least 10 articles since June of 2012 - would clearly demonstrate the board’s concerted effort in limiting the impact on Loudoun taxpayers. This is exhibited by a couple of the board’s key initiatives:

1. Metrorail Tax District: The capital costs of the Metrorail extension are borne primarily by commercial developers and landowners in the vicinity of the project who benefit most directly from Metrorail. As growth occurs and values increase, revenues in the district also increase. Above all, these taxes do not take away from any other revenues in the county coffers. This special tax district is already in place, already collecting revenue, and meeting projections.

2. TIFIA Financing: The Board deliberated for months over possible financing mechanisms for the capital costs of Metrorail. Thanks to the hard work of federal, state and local leaders, the U.S. Department of Transportation invited the Phase 2 Metrorail partners to submit an application for a federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovative Act (TIFIA) loan. This provides significant and tangible cost savings to Loudoun County. Principal payments do not begin until five years after completion of the project, allowing additional funds to accrue in the Tax District and lowering the amount of actual debt that must be incurred. Moreover, the length of payoff for the TIFIA loan is up to 25 years, reducing annual debt service payments.

Not only will TIFIA financing reduce Loudoun County’s capital costs, it also reduces MWAA’s capital costs, meaning tolls on the Dulles Toll Road do not need to rise as much to pay for Metrorail. The funding partners for Phase 2 of Dulles Metrorail estimate that the TIFIA loan - if awarded - could save the project over $1 billion in costs. So yes, TIFIA financing really is great news for our taxpayers and commuters.

The Board of Supervisors does have a plan - both for Loudoun County and for Metrorail. We’ve approved or initiated numerous zoning changes, comprehensive plan changes, transportation changes and road construction projects to enhance the benefits of Metrorail’s extension to Routes 606 and 772. Our plan for Loudoun County encompasses high-quality education, critical transportation projects, long-term sound fiscal planning and strategic economic development initiatives. In fact, it is these economic development initiatives that will provide a sustainable source of revenue for the needs of our county, including our school system. Our results in 2013 - over 5,000 new jobs and permits for over 1.8 million square feet of new commercial projects - show that they are working and the future is bright.

Clearly, the Loudoun Times-Mirror’s editorial page is eager to participate in our budget process, as evidenced by three editorials on the school budget prior to the board’s first budget work session. We are open to and appreciate community input in our budget process from all quarters.

But we would remind the editors that we are citizen legislators. The LTM tells us to “get out of the county building and into the real world.”  Well, we live in this community. Many of us deal with daily commutes to our full-time jobs just like our citizens do. Some of us have children in the public school system and are active in numerous civic and church groups.

Perhaps before urging us to “get out of the county building,” the editors themselves should consider spending some time in the county building to learn more about the fiscal management of the county, our plans for Metro and our strategic vision. We’ll be more than happy to provide a briefing. We’d also be willing to give them individual tours of our districts, which we know so well.

The board does its best to consider numerous community priorities - public safety, social services, libraries, parks and recreation, and yes, schools. There will be debate about exactly how much money should go to each one, and we certainly don’t expect the editorial page to agree with every decision. But the community does deserve at least an informed discussion, and in that regard, the LTM’s editorial badly failed.


Scott K. York, Chairman, At-Large

Shawn M. Williams, Broad Run District, Vice-Chair

Matthew F. Letourneau, Dulles District, Chairman, Economic Development Committee

Ralph M. Buona, Ashburn District, Chairman, Finance/Government Services & Operations Committee

 

Loudoun County

Comments


I’m not a big BOS supporter as they’re the main reason for all the poor planning in the county, however, the school board is MIA on the budget because of working on a charter school project and various other LCPS projects/issues.


Where did the 40 million for the Silver Line come from?


How come this article is not front page news like the original editorial?  Thank you York for standing up, especially to the school board.

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