The first of three public hearings on the county budget was quieter than years past, but people who serve other Loudouners came out to make their case.
Several people—some teachers and some not—asked supervisors to adopt a tax rate that will let them fully fund the school system’s request and make sure teachers get raises.
“I don’t think it’s too much to ask if it puts Loudoun’s educators, police and firefighters on a pathway to middle class living,” said 20-year teacher Carl Mackey.
The School Board sets teachers’ wages, but the majority of the school system’s funding comes from the county.
The board also heard from the nonprofit ECHO, which helps place people with disabilities in local jobs and provides support for them in those jobs where necessary. Last year, ECHO received a funding boost to help tackle the long waiting list for its services, but that waitlist nonetheless continues to grow.
One person who works through ECHO, Alyson Romanish, made a repeat appearance. She has become a familiar face advocating for ECHO after speaking at a budget public hearing last year too.
ECHO has often been well represented at budget public hearings by its staff, clients, and their families. One of those, Mary Sue Conaway, is a mother of a person who works through ECHO, and said he comes home “beaming with pride at a job well done.”
“Each individual who works at ECHO is a testament to how much this county cares about each and every citizen,” Conaway said.
The board also heard from the local chapter of the Service Employees International Union, which represents some county employees and advocates for them.
“I’m struck every year by the number of needs in this county that this board almost funds, almost taxes enough to cover, almost takes care of the employees,” said SEIU member Beth Newberry, who retired as a psychiatric nurse from the Department of Mental Health, Substance Abuse, and Developmental Services.
The county recently received the first phase of a report on its salaries and pay structure, finding it lags behind its competitors in Northern Virginia both in compensation and number of employees by population.
“Those moving here or starting a business here expect the services provided by Loudoun County to be excellent, not just OK,” Newberry said. “People provide those services.” She asked for at least a 6.5 percent pay raise for all employees.
However a handful of people came out to advocate for a deeper cut to the tax rate. The first draft of the budget is funded at a real estate tax rate of $1.09 per $100 of assessed value, a 3.5 cent cut from this year’s tax rate. That is the equalized rate, at which the average real property owner pays the same dollar figure in real estate taxes despite growing values. The county’s budget growth is buoyed in large part by other taxes, such as property taxes on data centers.
Jim Bonfils, the new chairman of the Loudoun County Republican committee, asked supervisors to push the tax rate another penny lower, something that County Administrator Tim Hemstreet has warned against as the county government continues to catch up from years of falling behind population growth, brings its salaries in line with the region, and tackles its need for roads and infrastructure.
The next budget public hearing is Thursday, Mar. 1 at 3 p.m. A third public hearing will be Saturday, Mar. 3 at 9 a.m. at the school administration building in Broadlands.