Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Phyllis Randall has encouraged Loudouners to practice social distancing since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March.
Contrary to her previous events in front of a packed boardroom, she was one of just several people in the boardroom during her State of the County address Wednesday in Leesburg as Virginia remains under a stay-at-home order.
The county and nation are in a worldwide pandemic that has thus far claimed 49 Loudoun residents' lives.
“We stand in almost unprecedented times, not for over 100 years has a pandemic so devastated the world,” Randall (D-At Large) said. “COVID-19 has robbed us of our ability to gather for parties and parades, for relaxation and recreation, for work or worship, for high school games and high school graduations.”
Randall congratulated the graduating seniors from Loudoun County, recognizing them for their confidence, independence, engagement and awareness. She called the class amazing and wished them the best of luck in the future. She urged the seniors to consider volunteering for a nonprofit organization “with a mission that speaks to your passions.”
Randall said the nonprofit community in Loudoun has seen a significant increase in the number of citizens utilizing its resources, including re-entry services, homelessness mitigation, domestic violence assistance and food services.
Loudoun Hunger Relief has seen a daily increase of 26 new families receiving food assistance based on six days a week service during the pandemic, Randall said. Loudoun Hunger has distributed 102 tons of food and more than 170,000 meals in April.
During this year’s budget process, Randall said the Board of Supervisors has allocated more than $2 million to local nonprofits for fiscal 2021. Loudoun citizens have also made donations to the nonprofit community, including more than $600,000 on the annual GiveChoose day in May.
“Quite honestly, it is not possible for county government to fulfill the various needs of every Loudoun citizen,” Randall said. “Our nonprofits stand in the gap and complete our circle. In a compassionate, respectful manner they deliver an invaluable service. Because our nonprofits work directly with families, they realize that with the exception of robbing many of their livelihood and some of their lives, the most sinister result of this virus is that it has robbed us of our ability to feel safe, to hug, to touch, and to even be near loved ones when most needed.”
Randall recognized county staff, teachers and volunteers for their service during these trying times. She further applauded the efforts of hospitals and medical staff, first responders and all essential workers.
In Loudoun, five members of the sheriff’s office and nine members of the combined fire and rescue system have thus far contracted the coronavirus. Randall said all of them have recovered.
“COVID 19 has redefined, or maybe just clarified, what a hero is,” Randall said. “Not someone who leaps tall buildings in a single bound, shoots a spider web from their hand, or flies an invisible jet. No, a hero is someone who does a job even while realizing that job could put them, and sadly their families, at risk; yet they go to work, gloved up, masked up and often fed up.”
Randall also talked about the board’s April 8 vote to adopt a fiscal 2021 budget that reduces the tax rate one cent from $1.045 per $100 in assessed value. The budget, which goes into effect in July, totals approximately $3 billion in appropriations for the county government and school system.
Initially, the upcoming tax rate was thought to result in a tax bill increase for most homeowners, but Randall said if devaluation of the real property portfolio occurs due to the coronavirus pandemic, the new rate will likely fall below the projected equalized tax rate for fiscal 2021.
Amid the pandemic, the board authorized administrative staff to freeze most of the previously approved new county positions. Randall said the board also took “the very difficult step” of freezing merit-based pay hikes for all county employees.
“... This board realizes our employees are hardworking, dedicated public servants who deserve merit increases,” Randall said. “However, as a body we believed it was important to ensure all our full- and part-time regular staff, as well as our full-time contract staff, remained employed at their current pay structure, to include the pay increase from the compensation and classification study. This goal could only be accomplished if we froze all new local tax funded positions and postponed merit pay increases.”
At the advice of Loudoun County Treasurer Roger Zurn (R), the board extended the deadline for personal property taxes to June 5. The board also reserved -- essentially froze -- $100 million to prepare for coronavirus-related costs.
"Loudoun, we realize the efforts made by the county board do not in any way relieve the financial pressure your families are experiencing due to a layoff or the loss of a business, but it is our hope that taking these prudent, pragmatic steps will ensure that county government remains available to meet the needs of our citizens,” Randall said.
The chairwoman said the pandemic has placed more than 29,000 Loudouners in unemployment and “devastated” large companies, small businesses and the hospitality community.
Randall noted that the Loudoun County Economic Development office awarded grants to more than 200 local businesses impacted by the virus. The relief fund totaled nearly $1.4 million, with $1.15 million being diverted from the county’s business incentive fund and $250,000 coming from the Loudoun Economic Development Authority.
She recognized county marketing agency Visit Loudoun, the Loudoun Chamber of Commerce and the economic development office for the organizations' work to connect with and assist businesses and job seekers. She also applauded the efforts of local businesses that have adjusted marketing and sales plans and aided essential workers.
The county is receiving approximately $36 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding. A portion of the CARES Act funding will go to the seven local incorporated towns, and some can be used to aid small businesses and nonprofits.
“Loudoun, I feel very secure in telling you the state of our county is caring, resilient, compassionate and strong," Randall said. “Together, we will weather this storm. We will stand as an example for every county in our nation, of what it means to be a diverse, caring county that resolves to take care of one another. In the face of this great challenge, we won’t simply achieve what’s Loudoun possible, we’ll achieve the seemingly impossible.”
In a video montage, high school seniors from around Loudoun County spoke about their memories and wishes for their classmates.
International recording artist Tracy Hamlin opened the evening with the national anthem.