Board Continues Road Construction Debate

Board Continues Road Construction Debate

The Board of Supervisors continued its debate over whether the county should begin paying for the construction and improvements of local roads at its Tuesday, May 16, business meeting.

Although it was not part of original meeting agenda, the issue was raised by Supervisor Jim Burton (I-Blue Ridge) as a reaction to the selection by the Loudoun County School Board of Fields Farm as the site of the new western high school. Burton made a motion to direct county staff members to create a package of potential Route 7 transportation bonds, which would begin the process of constructing interchanges at Route 7 and Route 609 in Purcellville, Sycolin Road in Leesburg and Loudoun County Parkway in Ashburn.

The motion passed 7-0-1-1 with Supervisor Jim Clem (R-Leesburg) absent for the vote and Supervisor Bruce E. Tulloch (R-Potomac) abstaining.

"Since the School Board has selected Fields Farm for western high school, I believe it is my responsibility to make it work," Burton said.

THE TOPIC of roads was a hot-button issue during the board's fiscal year 2007 budget deliberations and was an issue that Burton never supported.

Burton acknowledged his flip on the issue and said that with the addition of the new school, he now saw the immediate need.

"I believe that the interchange is needed at 690," he said. "I do not see it happening naturally in my lifetime and so I am ready to change my view from the budget process."

During the budget process, the board was split, with some Supervisors believing the county needed to get involved with road construction in order to meet the needs of county and others believing it was not the responsibility of county tax payers to pay for roads.

"If we are going to be in the business of transportation, we are going to be in the business," Supervisor Lori Waters (R-Broad Run) said, echoing her comments during budget debates. "We have the opportunity to address Route 7 from the Fairfax County line all the way to Purcellville."

The Supervisors who were in favor of road construction throughout the budget process supported Burton's motion, but many expressed concern over how the motion came about.

"I think the only reason this is bringing brought up is because of the schools," Supervisor Mick Staton (R-Sugarland Run) said. "To throw in road bonds simply to get an interchange for a school will not work."

Tulloch called Burton's motion a "whole lot of splash with no cash," saying that a serious discussion about transportation issues needed to be had.

"We knew when the School Board picked the high-school sites that we would have to do transportation improvements," he said. "We need to talk about responsible development of the transportation system."

For some of the Supervisors there was concern over the lack of information about the reality of traffic and roads in the county.

"It is perplexing because we [are] talking about doing a bond package for areas of county that need road improvements and the transportation study is not even done," Supervisor Scott K. York (I-At Large) said. "Is 690 an issue that needs to be solved to solve Fields Farm? We don't know that."

York went on to say that the board is "stuck between a rock and a hard place" on the road issue because a transportation study is needed to know what road improvements are necessary, but the board must put forward a package before its August recess in order to get the referendum on the November 2007 ballot.

County staff members were instructed to come back to the next board meeting with a package on the road interchanges, including the estimated costs of the projects, so the board could continue an informed discussion about the issues.

"All I wanted to do was begin the dialogue so we can have a real good discussion on June 6," Burton said. "I think we have the opportunity to solve some of the major problems."

IN ADDITION to the road development report, the board debated who would be the best agency to conduct an audit of the Loudoun County school system and the county government to ensure that both are operating properly and with the greatest efficiency.

The subject of an audit originally came up during budget deliberations, when Supervisors raised questions over the budgets of both the school system and several government agencies. The board was supposed to take action on the audit at Tuesday's meeting.

The debate arose over whether the board's current auditing firm, KPMG, should be used for the audit.

"I think it is unfair to criticize KPMG and say they will not do a fair job simply because they have worked with staff," Staton said.

Some members of the board believed that new eyes were needed in order to get the citizens involved and to ensure a comprehensive audit.

"We need a new set of eyes or don't even waste the taxpayers' money," Supervisor Stephen Snow (R-Dulles) said. "Task finance committee to develop a blue-ribbon panel of business experts to perform audit on schools and county."

Snow made a motion to create a separate panel for the audit, but, as of press time, the motion had been tabled.

"I can't help wonder if a fresh set of eyes would help," York said. "We're here to get a conclusion of how we can improve the system."

Other Supervisors opposed the idea of finding a new auditor and were concerned about the length of time an audit with a new firm would take.

"[The finance committee] did believe that in order to get the results back before next budget cycle was to use KPMG," Tulloch said. "If we want to use this in the next budget cycle then we need to get the process started."

AS PART OF the consent agenda, or items approved unanimously without discussion, the board approved a one-year contract to Office Depot to be the government's purchasing agent for office supplies in the estimated amount of $600,000. The annual award utilizes the US Government Purchasing Alliance.

The board also awarded a one-year contract for Loudoun County home improvement and eastern Loudoun revitalization programs to The Matthews Group and Asil Services. The award, which is estimated at $700,000, provides for the two programs, which were established to help rehabilitate the homes of low- to moderate-income homeowners. Recipients of aid are determined by county guidelines and by definitions set by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The final item in the consent agenda was the application from Verizon Virginia Inc. to provide cable television services to residents. Verizon already provides broadband and telephone services to county residents.

As conditions to the approval, Verizon agreed to provide the county $100,000 up front and $1 per subscriber per month for the 15-year contract to support public, educational and government channels and the Institutional Network. Verizon also agreed to build out its initial service areas within four years. Initially service will reach residents in the areas served by the Sterling, Leesburg, Ashburn and Arcola call centers.

For the first seven years of the contract, Verizon will serve a density threshold of 30 homes per mile. After seven years, the density threshold will reduce to 20 homes per mile and Verizon agreed to service less populated areas if at least 15 homes per mile become subscribers.