As Loudoun County leaves the year of 2005 behind, it is bringing the issue of the past into the new year. "Old issues will continue to be top issues," said chairman of the Board of Supervisors Scott York (I-At Large). He said the issues are all connected to the county's rapid population growth.
According to a Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) estimate, the population of Loudoun County is projected to grow 87.6 percent from 169,600 people in 2000 to 318,100 people in 2010. In comparison, Fairfax County is projected to grow by 16.8 percent, while the Northern Virginia region overall is projected to grow 27.8 percent in the same time period.
<bt>Transportation is among the top issues facing the county in 2006. York said Loudoun needs to secure sufficient funds from Richmond for road improvements and expansions of road networks. Adequate policies are needed to regulate the funds and proper infrastructure needs to be built to support the rapid growth, he said. York cited a possibility of more than 20,000 new homes built in the Route 50 corridor as an example of roads needing improvement to support new population.
Supervisor Stephen Snow (R-Dulles) dubbed 2006 "Year of the Road." He said Loudoun County has made it a policy to tie road improvement with new developments. If developers want to build in Loudoun, they have to help with the road situation. "That is how we get our roads done," said Snow.
County Administrator Kirby Bowers announced Dec. 19 the county hired Dale Castellow as the new director of transportation services. Bowers said he expects Castellow to begin his duties in mid-January of 2006. "We are very pleased to have him on staff," he said.
<sh>Building Up the East
<bt>The eastern part of the county will continue to see new residential and other developments sprout throughout it. Snow said he anticipates the Arcola Center development to break ground during the year. In March 2005, Buchanan Partners, the developer involved said it expects to start building in early 2006. The center will provide more than 500,000 square feet of industrial and office space to support the residential developments in the Route 50 corridor. An area nearby is under consideration for a George Mason University campus in Loudoun. Greenvest LC donated 124 acres of land to GMU and plans a residential development of more than 3,000 units next to the campus. Packie Crown, vice president of planning and zoning for Greenvest, said the developer hopes its application will be approved towards the end of 2006.
Snow said there is also a possibility of a library breaking ground and a Slave Quarters Museum opening in the Dulles District. However, while the east continues to build up, the Board of Supervisors is proposing downzoning the west.
<sh>Downzoning the West?
<bt>The Board of Supervisors moved Dec. 10 to propose a draft for the rezoning of western Loudoun. The ongoing debate of what to do with the mostly rural part of the county has been discussed since 2003, when the board approved a significant downzoning of the region, from one house per three acres, to as low a density as one house per 50 acres in some parts. Virginia Supreme Court threw out the decision in response to 200 lawsuits against the county, costing Loudoun an estimated $6 million. Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) said the top story of 2006 will be whether the current proposal will generate more than 200 lawsuits and whether the cost of litigation will exceed $10 million.
At the board's Dec. 13 public hearing, Jack Shockey donated $10 million in fake money to the board. Shockey is the president of Citizens for Property Rights, a group claiming downzoning reduces land value. The $10 million he gave the board was meant to serve as a warning of the lawsuits Shockey said will be generated if the current proposal goes through.
<bt>The 2006 tax debate was expected to get jump started Jan. 3. The Board of Supervisors put the 2005 tax rebate on the agenda for the day's meeting. The question is, what to do with the budget surplus from 2005?
The finance/government services committee voted 3-2 to recommend a large part of the $21 million budget surplus be redistributed to the taxpayers. Each residential owner in the county would receive a check of approximately $165 if the board approves the plan. The rebate is a result of Supervisor Mick Staton's (R-Sugarland Run) initiative to send the money back to the taxpayers, instead of using it towards next year's budget. Supervisor Bruce Tulloch (R-Potomac) said the rebate is not an example of sound accounting principles. In the past, he said, the board always used the surplus towards the following year's budget, and the process earned the county a AAA bond rating.
County's Treasurer Roger Zurn said he hopes the board does not vote for the rebate. "I don't think it is a good idea," he said. Zurn acknowledged the people could use $165, but said they probably would not receive the check until early May. Early May is when Loudoun residents receive their tax bills, which Zurn estimates will increase by $800 to $1,000, because of rising assessment values. He said he would rather see the surplus put towards next year's budget, as was done in the past, to help reduce the 2006 tax rates.
The board is already tackling the issue of not receiving enough reimbursement money from the state for the car tax. The difference caused by the state's fixed reimbursement combined with the county's growing population will cause the board to either raise some tax rates, cut funding to some programs or a combination of the two. York said the board is likely to make choices in both directions.
<bt>Cutting funds to programs is likely to cause other issues in 2006. Supervisor Jim Clem (R-Leesburg), also the chairman of the public safety committee, said he will continue to work on getting public safety up to speed. He said the fire and rescue department is going through a transition from an all-volunteer force to a combined volunteer/career force.
Safe communities and good education are essential for any government to have, said Snow. "We need to fund that," he said.
<bt>"We need to make decisions by positioning ourselves 20 years ahead," said Tulloch. To do so, he said, the board needs to focus on issues to improve the quality of life for Loudoun residents. Those issues are transportation, education and public safety.
Snow called on the public to read periodicals, go to the county Web site and attend meetings in order to stay informed. The more constituents can inform themselves, the better the Supervisors will be able to represent them, he said. "The message is 'We do listen.'"