Supervisors nix economic development request at fourth budget work session
The only enhancement supervisors signed off on during the session was a $140,000 addition for recurring software security costs for the Department of Information Technology.
Thursday’s meeting marked what could be the second to last budget work session. Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) said she had decided to scrap the session planned for March 25 and would try to wrap up discussions during its budget session scheduled for Monday.
The board now has $388,634 remaining to allocate that would allow them to not increase the $1.135 per $100 in assessed value tax rate. $1.135 is the rate that will keep taxes level for the average county homeowner.
Thus far the board has made more than $2.7 million in preliminary enhancements.
In an effort to prevent cyber crime on Loudoun’s expanding trove of networks and applications, the Department of Information Technology asked supervisors for $440,000 for new security programs.
The request came after the department’s Director Wendy Wickens said an audit firm had identified potential risks in the areas of network access control, high-level permission management and credit card and social security information.
Wickens said in the next two to three years the department anticipates the number of smart devices that will need to access the county’s network will increase from 2,000 devices to more than 12,000.
Supervisors, however, were somewhat hesitant to approve the request when they found out the $440,000 would be for the first year’s security programs package and that they would need to continue to appropriate roughly 20 to 25 percent of that cost in annual operating and maintenance costs going forward.
“Did you all seek grants or try to look for grants for these?” Supervisor Ron Meyer (R-Broad Run) asked Wickens, who said her department had not. “Our staff with a five-minute search found significant grants available for these types of programs.”
Ultimately, supervisors agreed to provide the department with $300,000 from its fund balance and $140,000 in new recurring operation and maintenance costs.
After bringing in what economic development Director Buddy Rizer expects will be more than $2 billion in new commercial investment by the end of fiscal 2017, the department attempted to pitch a new strategy to supervisors: a position to work with Loudoun’s major towns.
Rizer requested $51,730 for his department to create a new position focused on supporting five Loudoun towns' economic development efforts.
He said at least three to five “wins” would provide the county with a return on investment on the cost for the position.
Rizer, Middleburg Town Manager Martha Mason Semmes and Leesburg Mayor Kelly Burk all asked the board to fund the position, but most supervisors, including former Leesburg Mayor Kristen Umstattd (D-Leesburg), said the the towns were adequately promoted by the Department of Economic Development already and through other means.
“I’m skeptical,” Umstattd said. “We have the private sector [in the towns], the commercial real estate brokers who are already trying to recruit businesses all over the county, including inside the towns. I don’t really have a sense of how this would be something new that would bring new revenues that wouldn’t already come to the town.”
Burk and Semmes argued the Department of Economic Development had more resources, including more data, and could help them promote their town’s unique stories to businesses.
Supervisor Tony Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) said he liked the idea of the position and wanted to give it a try for at least three years and potentially remove it if the county was not getting its return on investment.
The Blue Ridge Supervisor offered a motion to approve the Department of Economic Development’s request, but the motion failed on a 5-4 vote.
On Thursday, supervisors also agreed to retain $4.9 million in excess unallocated funds from Loudoun County Public Schools’ self insurance fund to put in the county’s general fund and not use the extra money to pay for turf fields at Briar Woods and Freedom high schools.
Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles), who made the motion to save the extra funds for later, said his decision was prompted by the uncertainty around the President Donald Trump’s federal budget that could impact the county’s finances down the road.
The board also approved $190,000 from fund balance for the Department of Building and Development to establish a watershed management plan for the western hills watershed management area.
Supervisors on Monday will hear the requests of the Departments of Parks, Recreation and Community Services; Library Services; Health Services; and General Services.
If supervisors need more time, they will extend the budget work session discussions into Wednesday.
A final vote on the budget is expected April 4.
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