Supervisors make more cuts, criticize the General Assembly during third budget session
County Administrator Tim Hemstreet has proposed a $2.5 billion budget for fiscal 2018 at a tax rate of $1.135 per $100 in assess value -- the so-called equalized tax rate that would keep tax bills level for the average homeowner.
With three more work sessions remaining before the budget is adopted April 4, Monday’s mid-way meeting was met with cuts, criticism of the General Assembly and several priorities supervisors disagreed on.
In an effort to retain clerks for the General District and Juvenile and Domestic Relations courts, court system officials asked supervisors to provide them with a 15 percent salary supplement, totaling $159,110.
Judge Deborah Welsh said clerks are state employees, not county employees, and that some type of supplement was provided by more than 20 counties and cities across the commonwealth, including in Fairfax, Arlington and Alexandria.
Welsh said qualified clerks often leave for higher paying positions with the county or in neighboring jurisdictions.
In fiscal 2016, the General District Court saw a 36 percent turnover rate among clerks, while the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court saw a 44 percent turnover rate that same year.
Despite the comparison to other counties, several supervisors agreed the supplemental funding was not a cost they should have to shoulder, but one the General Assembly should fund in its state budget.
“These are state employees, and you can artificially keep a tax rate low if you want to, but there are going to be consequences to artificially low tax rates,” Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) said angrily. “And [the General Assembly is] trying to have their cake and eat it too.”
Vice Chairman Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn) likened the General Assembly’s unfunded mandates to the behavior of teenagers.
“We’re getting unfunded mandates on mental health and substance abuse that we’re picking up, we're getting unfunded mandates on community services that we’re picking up,” Buona said. “I view the General Assembly as a teenager. Every time you bail a teenager out they expect ... to get bailed out again.”
Buona and Randall agreed the issue needed to go into the county's legislative program list of priorities for next year's session in Richmond.
Supervisor Kristen Umstattd (D-Leesburg) attempted to add the salary supplements to the board’s prospective list of budget additions, but her motion was voted down.
“I look at the growth that has occurred in this county and the impact it has had on the courts along with our roads, our schools, and I think this is fundamental aspect of this republic, and think we are in a position where we can fund these two courts requests without going above the equalized tax the $1.135,” Umstattd said.
As Loudoun’s population continues to grow, General Registrar Judy Brown reminded the board that so does the number of voter registrations.
Brown asked supervisors to bolster her department by funding two positions. One, she said, would be an assistant registrar at a cost of $65,585 to help with online voter registration automation.
Another position, Brown said, would be for an administrative assistant for $70,556 to help the department with candidate filings, campaign finance reporting, handling office payroll and communicating with polling places prior to elections.
The request comes with House of Delegates, Senate and gubernatorial elections being held later this year.
But because the department recently wrapped up work on a presidential election, Supervisor Ron Meyer (R-Broad Run) argued the positions were not needed for what he predicts will not be a “hot election year.”
“If this was coming to us before 2020 the next presidential year, I think I would consider it,” Meyer said. “But in an off year like this, I think you tend to see some pretty substantial relief.”
Meyer offered a motion to remove the assistant registrar position, but that motion failed.
New public information officer
In an effort to have a “dedicated resource” for the county’s transportation and capital infrastructure related projects, county administration asked supervisors for $110,070 to hire a transportation public information officer.
County administration said the position was its “highest priority” for fiscal 2018. Over the last year, they said the public affairs division had helped the Department of Transportation and Capital Infrastructure with the more than 1,200 combined inquiries, transportation related tasks and other events.
Supervisor Meyer, who serves as an editor for an online publication for young conservatives and previously ran a public relations firm, noted he already served on a number of regional transportation bodies, and he would gladly take on the proposed public information officer role and save the county the cost.
“I believe that public affairs is definitely a key element to doing this job, and that’s why I think that it’s good that this board designated someone who had a public relations company to the positions that I’m on,” Meyer said. “I’m happy to help with public relations. I really think I can save the county $110,000 by helping promote with our offices this work.”
Others supervisors were more skeptical.
“I deeply appreciate some of my colleagues who are on these other regional boards, but when it’s only one person getting their name in the newspaper, don’t say they're representing the county,” Supervisor Suzanne Volpe (R-Algonkian) said.
Meyer suggested the board do away with the position, a motion supervisors ultimately agreed on.
Thus far through the budget talks, supervisors have $528,633 remaining to allocate without impacting the $1.135 per $100 in assessed value tax rate.
Supervisors on Monday also approved $75,019 for a civil case management clerk in the office of the Clerk of the Circuit Court, $71,085 for an information services assistant in the Treasurer's Office and $75,160 for a tax exemptions and deferral specialist in the Commissioner of Revenue's Office.
Supervisors have three more budget sessions to go, with the next scheduled for Thursday.
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