Latest in budget talks: Fire and Rescue gets $653K, Planning Commission raises get nixed
County Administrator Tim Hemstreet has proposed a budget at a tax rate of $1.135 per $100 in assessed value, which would keep taxes level for the average county homeowner. The current tax rate is $1.145 per $100.
Following Thursday's meeting, $700,383 remains in unallocated funds at the $1.135 rate. Supervisors cast straw votes on more than $1.3 million in requests as various department heads made theirs cases for funding increases, which they said are needed to keep pace with growth and the salaries of surrounding jurisdictions.
The majority of budget additions centered on staffing increases. Department heads asked supervisors to help take the burden of a growing workload off its current staff.
The Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services won the most funding March 9. The board agreed on $653,536 in enhancements, which includes $428,723 for five full-time positions at the Kirkpatrick Farms Fire-Rescue Station; $215,013 for two safety inspectors; and another $9,800 from Supervisor Suzanne Volpe’s (R-Algonkian) district budget to increase the current $20,600 budgeted to reimburse volunteer fire and rescue volunteers for college.
“I think this is one thing we can do to incentivize volunteers to remain in Loudoun County,” Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At large) said, noting that out of the 1,500 volunteer firefighters, 800 were active.
Supervisors and staff agreed that an increase in tuition reimbursement could help retain those volunteers.
Volpe volunteered to take on the expense from her district budget.
Other additions the board approved included: $101,800 for the Department of Management and Budget to hire a capital budget analyst and another $156,561 for a grant writer; $78,626 for the Department of Planning and Zoning to hire a planning technician; $109,946 to hire a management analyst and another $98,412 for a utility engineer in the Department of Transportation and Capital Infrastructure; $91,227 for a benefits specialist in the county’s Human Resource Department; and $83,383 for a accounts receivable administrator in the Finance and Procurement Department.
Planning Commission pay
Despite most requests gaining approval March 9, two in particular faced pushback.
The county’s Planning Commission Chairman Jeff Salmon (Dulles) and Vice Chairman Cliff Keirce (Broad Run) had asked staff to include in the budget an increase of $4,684 to only their salaries. The increase would have raised the chair’s salary from $22,334 to roughly $25,000 and the vice chair’s from $21,315 to roughly $23,000.
However, supervisors said the commissioners had not discussed the raise with them before the request went into the budget. Many said they would support giving them a raise, but did not like the way the commissioners had hid the request in the budget.
“When one particular planning commissioner comes behind the scenes and says ‘raise my pay and the other one’s pay,’ that’s not the way these should be done,” Vice Chair Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn) said.
The salary request did not gain support and supervisors agreed the board’s finance committee would discuss the matter at a later date.
Another request supervisors disagreed with was the Human Resource Department’s ask for $197,215 for two full-time workforce planning specialists to help the department’s workforce planning team manage an increase in their workload
The two new staff positions would have helped the team handle recruitment, application reviews, reclassification requests, personnel actions, classifications and new hire processing, according to documents.
However, Supervisor Ron Meyer (R-Broad Run) argued the department could start off with one specialist and possibly add another staff position the following year.
“Two right now to me is not justified. It may be justified next year,” he said.
Other supervisors argued not having an adequate staffing levels to help with employment recruiting in a county with a vacancy problem was not the right move.
“We do have a vacancy problem don’t we?” Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles) asked. “So if we always sit up here and we complain, we talk about how we’re not filling vacancies right? And yet this is a position designed to help us fill vacancies for budgeted positions that we can’t currently fill, and now we’re going to take it away and continue to have the same vacancy problems that we have.”
But Meyer’s request to do way with one planning specialist was narrowly approved 5-4.
Supervisors have four more budget worksessions to go. The next one scheduled for Monday night.
The final budget is slated to be adopted April 4.
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