By the time the final vote was cast on Leesburg’s Fiscal Year 2022 budget, council members did not deviate much from the budget document originally presented by Town Manager Kaj Dentler.
The council voted Tuesday to adopt a budget just under $134 million, comprising $65.4 million in the General Fund, $43.6M in the Utilities Fund, and $25 million in the Capital Fund out of which the town’s Six-Year Capital Improvements Program is funded. The Fiscal Year 2022 CIP includes 33 capital projects.
The adopted 18.4-cent real estate tax rate is the same as the current rate, and the same rate proposed by Dentler. Despite the level tax rate, a more than 8% increase in residential assessments means Leesburg taxpayers should expect to see slightly higher tax bills, between $4 and $7 monthly increases, depending on housing type.
The council was looking at a slightly higher tax rate of 18.44 cents per $100 of assessed value entering Tuesday’s meeting. Monday night, in a non-binding straw vote, the council supported a proposal by Mayor Kelly Burk to add $37,000 into the General Fund for new holiday decorations targeted for the downtown area. Burk said that the holiday decorations are a real draw for visitors to the downtown area during the holiday season, and said she believed more will be eager to visit this year as the town comes out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prior to budget adoption Tuesday, however, Councilwoman Suzanne Fox advocated moving forward with a staff suggestion to use $37,000 from the current fiscal year’s budget, which Dentler said could be absorbed using vacancy savings from fiscal year 2021. That would mean the decorations would be purchased ahead of the end of the fiscal year, June 30, Dentler said. The council unanimously supported that change.
On Monday the council also added $60,000 back into the General Fund, with those funds eyed for improvements to the Loudoun Museum. The $60,000 line item was initially proposed by Dentler to use for leasing office space for the mayor and council members, but a council majority instead favored utilizing office space within Town Hall. With some town staff likely moving to Loudoun Museum’s log cabin, a town-owned property, to make way for the council, Dentler said the lease with the museum will need to be tweaked. Museum staff have already discussed needed improvements to the museum’s main building on Loudoun Street, including upgrades to the HV/AC system and bathrooms. Fox found support for adding the $60,000 back into the General Fund as a placeholder for museum improvements, though the total cost of upgrades is not yet known.
A year following the stateside arrival of the pandemic, Tuesday’s finalized budget document came after a year of belt tightening at Town Hall to combat declining government revenues, with consumer taxes, parks and recreation fees, and the town’s investment income hit particularly hard. The town has been operating with a $5.2 million deficit in the current fiscal year, but Dentler has expressed confidence that the deficit will be closed by the end of the fiscal year. As part of the budget deliberations, Dentler and finance staff also advocated for the creation of a revenue stabilization fund, which the council can utilize if revenues are not sufficient to cover expenses.
Dentler emphasized throughout the budget process that the Fiscal Year 2022 budget contains no growth, and only gets the town back to where it was pre-COVID. The only new additions to the General Fund for Fiscal Year 2022 are an additional $300,000 for emergency response and snow removal, and the continuation of the King Street outdoor dining promotion through 10 months of the year, at a little more than $177,000. While many have expressed confidence that the economy will rebound, Dentler has urged the council to consider how to plan, and pay for, current and future needs of the commonwealth’s largest town, including additional lane miles to pave and maintain; a larger population and more households to serve; dozens of staff positions still frozen or vacant; and many maintenance projects deferred to close the deficit.
The tax rate, budget and CIP adoption were all approved unanimously.