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Back to the future?

The above scenario is actually predicted to greet residents and county leaders in 2020.

We appear to be stuck in that old French adage: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

How unfortunate that would be for Loudoun – and our children.
According to the county’s adopted fiscal plan for 2010, by 2020 our population is expected to increase by 30 percent. Further, the county student population in 2020 is forecast to be 92,000 pupils in 92 schools, compared to the 60,000 students in 76 schools now.

You can just hear new County Administrator Tim Hemstreet sighing, “Oh no, here we go again.”
It doesn’t have to be that way.

Believe it or not, planning for one year is the easy part. Planning a vision for the next decade is the real task at hand. That, of course, takes leadership.

Loudoun County leaders must start now to prepare for this explosion of change. Otherwise, we’re going to be left with one sizable mess on our hands. Again.

What hampers the task, of course, is that we’re still trying to catch up to the growth spurt of the last two decades that nearly doubled Loudoun’s population.

That’s not to say that county leaders haven’t taken some steps, but they are disparate and balkanized by politics and glints of pettiness in board room decorum.

Work continues on the Route 28 corridor plan, as well as the newly adopted energy strategy. Those, however, are just first steps.

We’re not saying this is all easy as pie. The county already faces an estimated $191.6 million budget shortfall for FY2011 and serious structural fiscal barriers like ballooning debt service payments and our gut-wrenching reliance on real estate assessments.

Supervisors have some difficult – but not thankless—decisions to make.

Times are tough all around. And with no extra money from the state to cushion the blow, supervisors likely are going to cut services to make up the difference. Or raise taxes. Or both.

In the long run, residents are going to be the ones to suffer through tax increases and cuts to services such as libraries, family counseling, elder care and school construction – all of which are much needed in desperate times.
We’re hoping that as the economy recovers, so too will our leaders’ drive to plan for the future. Instead of turning to just the next year, an eye on the next decade is warranted.

We think our county’s leadership happens to be smarter than Albert Einstein in one sense. He once remarked: “I never think of the future – it comes soon enough.”

Big mistake. In many ways, the future is here already. Don’t just envision it – plan for it.

There’s a bumper sticker out there that says, “Don’t Fairfax Loudoun.” If we put off planning our future, we can all expect to see a bumper sticker on the road that says, “Don’t Loudoun Fauquier.”

Ouch.

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