Leesburg town manager proposes flat tax rate, meaning slight hike in tax bills
“The headlines for the budget are very positive,” Town Manager Kaj Dentler said. “Our problems are what most communities and cities around the state would want to have.”
Overall, Leesburg’s financial situation looks pretty good, Dentler said. There have been increases in both the property tax base and new construction, and the town’s debt has been reduced by about $100,000.
The fiscal 2018 budget will cost nearly $49.2 million, a 5.2 percent increase over this year’s budget. Staff said the increase will be covered by the natural rise in property tax assessments. On average, homes should see a 3.57 percent increase, while businesses can expect a 10.44 percent rise. For homes in 2017, annual property assessments rose an average of about $10 to $20.
Since Leesburg passes budgets on a two-year basis, the fiscal 2019 budget will be similar to the 2018 budget, and council will simply pass exceptions to the decisions made this year.
With the additional funds the town will receive in 2018, Dentler proposed several measures that will increase the town’s customer service and technology. He would like to hire five additional town staff in the public works, parks and rec and zoning departments. Three of these will become a maintenance crew to manage street, sidewalk and trail repair, as well as leaf and snow removal.
Funds would go toward building Leesburg’s technological infrastructure by adding disaster recovery mechanisms and cyber security, since at this point Leesburg’s online records are tied to Loudoun County. The new budget would also cover three additional resident newsletters, closed captioning for government meetings and a Taste of Leesburg event to highlight downtown businesses.
Perhaps the most controversial proposition of the night was Dentler’s suggestion that the council allow staff to invest “seed money” into developing a “Main Street program.” Main Street programs, which exist in many states, help communities with historic downtowns promote their businesses. A sponsoring 501c3 nonprofit applies to the program, and, once accepted, the nonprofit will hire a staff member who works with interested businesses to provide guidance, promote collaboration and help create a streamlined “design” across the downtown area. Dentler said that both Staunton and Fredericksburg have used this program to great success.
The program would cost Leesburg an initial $110,000 investment, Dentler said, but the town would withdraw from the program once the private sector gets the ball rolling.
“It ends up working for the businesses,” Dentler said. “It becomes what the community wants to be.”
Council members Ken Reid and Thomas Dunn objected to Dentler’s suggestion that council at least consider the idea in more detail.
Council will review the budget and discuss it during a March 14 meeting, when they will also host a public hearing. They must approve the proposed or amended budget by April 4.
“I look forward to talking with you all about the budget,” Councilman Ron Campbell said, mentioning how past council discussions had taken a refreshingly constructive tone. “If that tone is continued, then we’ll have a very successful opportunity… for working together.”
The entire budget can be found at http://leesburgva.com/government/departments/finance/budget, or a hard copy at the Thomas Balch Library. If citizens have any additional questions about the budget, they can use the “Ask a Budget Question” form on the town website.
Leesburg residents pay town taxes on top of county property taxes, which carries a current rate of $1.145 per $100 in assessed value.
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