Here's What's in the FY24 Loudoun County Budget
At our April 4 Business Meeting, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors approved our Fiscal Year 2024 budget (8-0), which includes both operating and capital expenses and will go into effect on July 1, 2023. This year’s budget totals about $2.4 billion in total County General Fund appropriations.
As always, I want to start by thanking County staff, members of the public who participated in the process, and my colleagues on the Board for a diligent and productive budget discussion. The bottom line for you is that the property tax rate is going down by 1.5 cents to $.875/$100 assessed, and the personal property tax rate was reduced to $4.15/$100 assessed - a 5 cent reduction (with a further 5% discount on vehicle assessments). Overall that’s lower than where I thought we would be at the start of the process, but it is not low enough to offset assessment increases entirely. As a result, the average property owner in Loudoun will see an increase in their bill of about $340. For that reason, I think it is especially important that I provide this report so you can see exactly what is in the budget and especially what factors led to the increase that many will be paying.
The County budget each year consists of both the operating budget, which funds County departments and keeps the local government running efficiently throughout the year, and the six-year Capital Improvement Program (which I’ll be referring to as the CIP), a funding plan of future road, school, and infrastructure projects. The two components of the budget are funded differently. The operating budget is funded primarily through local tax revenue. The CIP is funded from a variety of different sources and is fiscally constrained, which means we can’t fund everything we want every year. In any given budget cycle, CIP projects receive funding from sources such as General Obligation Bonds, local tax revenue, Northern Virginia Transportation Authority Funds, and state revenue matching grants. Since timelines and funding sources change annually in the CIP, I’ll be highlighting projects of interest in the Dulles District alongside my commentary on our operating budget. I do want to note that the County once again received AAA bond ratings from the nation’s leading credit rating agencies, which allow us to borrow money for capital projects at the lowest possible interest rate.
Assessments Continued to Increase for Homes and Stayed High for Vehicles
Every year, I see commentary that the Board of Supervisors somehow manipulates assessments to collect more revenue. That is definitely not the case. The Board of Supervisors sets the tax rates. In 2013, during my first term, the Board gave authority to assess all property to the Commissioner of the Revenue, who is elected separately by the public. Commissioner Bob Wertz and his team are professionals who study real estate market conditions and consider the value of each property every year. For personal property, they rely on real vehicle transactional data to determine the value of vehicles. This year, in both cases, values remain high.
For real property like your home, there is a wide variation in assessments. Real estate value allocation in the Dulles District is broken down as follows: $11.7 billion of residential, $3.4 billion of commercial, and $2.58 billion exempt (mostly Dulles Airport). The average residential assessment for single family homes in the County went up from $790,070 in 2022 to $863,266 this year. Average townhome values went up from $530,167 to $567,421 and average condominium values went up from $345, 979 to $386,386. These increases are consistent with the nationwide rise in valuations.
Data center taxable real property values went up from $11.8 billion in 2022 to $18.4 billion in 2023. Data center square footage in the County went up from just under 20,000,000 sq. ft. to over 30,000,000 sq. ft. The data center industry continues to be a valuable partner to the County and help reduce resident tax bills, even as we seek to diversify our local economy and commercial tax base and keep data center revenue at 40% of our overall commercial revenue. The majority of revenue the County receives from data centers is not actually from the values of the buildings and parcels, but of the computer equipment inside, which is taxed at the personal property tax rate of $4.15. This year’s increase in square footage was a bit higher since many data centers didn’t develop during the pandemic and are now finally getting “online.”
As I mentioned, for the personal property tax rate, the Board decided to apply an additional 5% discount to the value of a vehicle. That means that vehicles will be taxed at the new rate of $4.15 and at 95% of their market value. We did this because vehicle values remain at historical highs due to still-limited supply, and there are still some particular models whose value is actually more than when they were new, especially hybrids.
How Does Loudoun County Compare?
Thanks largely to our robust data center market and to decisions made over the years, Loudoun County has the lowest tax rate in Northern Virginia. Below is a comparison:
Proposed tax rates with average home values in parentheses
Loudoun County: $.875 ($691,600)
Fairfax County: $1.11 ($719,522)
Arlington County: $.996 ($798,500)
Prince William County: $.977 + $.075 fire levy rate + $.0025 mosquito and forest pest management levy for a total of $1.0545 (official average home value not published)
City of Alexandria: $1.11 (official average home value not published)
A Historical Perspective
I think that it is important to have some historical context on your tax bills. When I joined the Board in 2012, the tax rate was $1.285 and the average home value was $397,300. At that value, the average homeowner paid $5,105 in real property taxes annually. This year the average home value is $691,600 and the average homeowner will pay $6,054. The average home value has increased 74% since 2012 while the annual taxes paid have increased by only 19%. This is because we have been able to increase the percentage of revenue from commercial sources during this time. If you took the $5,105 paid in 2012 and adjusted it for inflation (31%), it would be $6,689 in today’s dollars, so today’s tax bill is actually less than it was in 2012 when adjusted for inflation. This is particularly relevant because the County’s expenditures are not immune to inflation. Goods, services, labor, and construction are all subject to inflation and have been significant factors driving budget growth these last two years.
With all of that out of the way, here is what is in the County budget.
County Government FY24 Operating Budget
The FY24 budget contains about $2.4 billion in total County General Fund appropriations. During the budget process, the Board goes through each department individually to evaluate any enhancement requests and can ask questions about existing expenditures.
More Deputies on the Street
The Sheriff’s Office has a budget this year of around $129 million, which is up from last year’s total of $115 million. The single largest addition to the budget this year was the decision to add 36 field deputy positions to the Sheriff’s Office at the request of Sheriff Chapman. This action was based on an analysis done by the International Association of Chiefs of Police that found we had fallen below recommended staffing standards for field deputies. This cost $8.2 million and had unanimous support on the Board. These new positions will reduce the backlog of calls that field deputies often face. Our crime rate in Loudoun is remarkably low compared to surrounding jurisdictions, and the presence of more field deputies will allow LCSO to keep up with demand and reduce the workload needed to keep the County safe. To support the capital outlay costs associated with the additional positions for the Sheriff’s Office, the Board voted to reduce the local tax funding transfer to the Major Equipment Replacement Fund by about $4 million.
The other position we added to the Sheriff’s Office was a School Resource Officer for MS-14, which will be opening in the fall of 2024. We prorated the SRO position for one-half year at a cost of about $54,000.
One of the non-essential reductions that the Board chose to make during last year’s budget deliberations was to delay the second phase (of 3 planned phases) of the body-worn camera program for LCSO deputies. We were experiencing revenue shortfalls from the pandemic and were made aware that federal funding would become available for this purpose. I am pleased to report that at the end of 2022, we were able to expand the body-worn camera program using those federal funds. During budget deliberations, the Board voted unanimously to request an information item be returned to the Finance Committee from the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office and LCSO regarding body-worn camera data sharing procedures. We also voted to request additional information on the requirements for and practices of the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office as it pertains to body-worn camera footage viewing prior to arraignment and/or preliminary hearings. It is my belief that some of the resource stressors that are plaguing the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office are directly related to camera footage policies, and I would like to understand exactly what is required and what the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office's practices are. The Board approved my motion to examine this issue at the Finance Committee this year.
Office of the Commonwealth's Attorney
Speaking of the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, the Board added the department’s top priority, which was an executive assistant position to help manage administrative tasks. This was another turbulent year for the relationship between the Board and the Commonwealth’s Attorney, and the Board asked some difficult questions about how the office has been prosecuting (or not prosecuting) certain cases. In particular, the Board questioned the Commonwealth's Attorney about a memo sent to the Circuit Court judges which appears to stake out a position that certain misdemeanors will not be prosecuted. The Commonwealth's Attorney stated to the Board that in practice, nothing significant will change, and that further discussions have occurred to refine the practices of the office.
The Board ended up approving my motion to instruct the County Attorney (who works for the Board of Supervisors) to bring an item to the Board examining the prosecution of misdemeanor cases and any changes to the process. I look forward to that discussion. I have some philosophical differences with the current Commonwealth's Attorney, and also some concerns about management issues including extremely high turnover and inefficiency. However, the Commonwealth's Attorney is an elected position, and I therefore must evaluate the budget request objectively, which led to my support for an additional position given the administrative backlog that appears to exist.
Additional Fire-Rescue Staffing
The Loudoun County Combined Fire and Rescue System also received increased funding. The departmental budget totals about $137 million, an increase of around $7 million. The Board added 30 new positions to staff the new 25,000 sq. ft. Leesburg South Station, which will open in March 2025. This staffing request will be for an engine, a medic unit, and a tanker. 47 total FTE will be phased over this budget year and next.
Health & Welfare
Child Protective Services
Board funding for the Department of Family Services this year is $37.2 million, up from last year’s amount of $34.8 million. Contained within this department is a function that is both critical and difficult to staff - Child Protective Services. An analysis done this year indicates that Loudoun County CPS caseworkers have the highest caseloads in the Commonwealth of Virginia, which is not acceptable. The Board therefore added 8 new positions to the department to improve the caseload ratio. We also added nine new positions to the Public Benefits Unit, which provides assistance with housing, utility bills, rent, dental care, and other basic needs. The department has been experiencing high vacancy, and the pandemic caused case numbers to increase rapidly, but department leadership is working hard to fill the roles. When these departments are understaffed, it exacerbates the problem because existing staff become overworked and demoralized, leading to high turnover and even higher burdens for remaining staff.
New Crisis Response Unit
One of the other most significant items added to the budget this year is the creation of a new Crisis Intervention Team Community Access Response Unit. This is a pilot program developed by the Department of Mental Health, Substance Abuse, and Developmental Services in conjunction with the Sheriff’s Office. When LCSO receives a call for service involving a mental health issue, the new unit will respond with the deputy. This will allow us to have a trained mental health professional on the scene to help deescalate. I am a huge proponent of this program. I have been on ride-alongs with LCSO and seen firsthand the challenging calls they receive related to individuals experiencing a mental health crisis. Every LCSO deputy is trained in crisis intervention, but they are not medical professionals, and we are simply asking too much of them in some cases. This new program will provide critical resources on scene for these cases and I think it will lead to better outcomes. I applaud our County staff and Sheriff Chapman for making this a priority, and I stand ready to support a full program rollout if the pilot proves successful.
The Board also voted this year to add a Domestic Violence Probation Officer to the Department of Community Corrections. This officer will reduce casework for the rest of the department and will be responsible for enforcing the probationary periods for individuals convicted of domestic violence and assault. Having a dedicated position will hopefully help victims feel safer and prevent recidivism and repeat offenses.
Local Administration of the Loudoun County Health Department will begin this summer. While this won’t change operational procedures, it streamlines administration for efficiency and guarantees personnel that have local knowledge of their own departments. The Board initiated this effort to transfer control of the Health Department from the state last year, after it became clear that there was too much bureaucracy and not enough resources being made available.
Staffing in the area of transportation has grown significantly over the past several years. This is primarily driven by the County’s aggressive Capital Improvement Program (which I will address later) and growing transit operations. This year, the Board funded three asset management support positions for the Department of Transportation and Capital Infrastructure, which will create a new Asset Management Division to deal with land acquisition. Land acquisition is a major component of planning for and designing infrastructure projects around the County. These new positions will directly support the CIP and allow projects to move forward quicker and more efficiently. This year, total expenditures for the department are projected around $34.7 million, which demonstrates our continued commitment to building out our transportation network Countywide. We have made great progress on this front since I took office, but we have many more projects I want to see completed during my time on the Board.
Parks & Recreation
Parks & Recreation always has a lower percentage of local tax funding because the department charges for some services based on what it costs to provide them, such as admission fees to the Recreation Center and preschool tuition. Total expenditures in FY24 for the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Community Services are $70.1 million (of which only $42 million comes from local tax funding) – up from $69 million last year.
The FY24 budget includes a sports program manager to deal with increased participation in athletic organizations and sports leagues post-pandemic, as well as an elder resources case manager to help with workload in the department. I continue to believe that it is important that we not overlook our seniors.
The County continues to dedicate the equivalent of one cent on the tax rate to meeting the goals of the Unmet Housing Needs Strategic Plan. This year, $6.5 million was set aside for affordable housing, which remains a regional issue. This brings the total amount set aside for affordable housing to $11.2 million of local tax funding during the current Board’s term, as well as about $1.1 million of State Rental Assistance Program funding for this purpose. In addition, we have spent about $1.7 million from the Community Development Block Grant on affordable housing, and $33.8 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Rental Assistance Program Fund. $731,539 of federal COVID-19 relief funds went to affordable housing. Currently, we have $68 million total fund balance in our Housing Trust Fund, with $39.7 million of that available. The fund supports various County initiatives and programs, such as the Affordable Multi-Family Housing Loan Program. I believe that these investments have been very robust, despite criticism from some that the County has not done enough in this area.
The budget for Library Services this year was $24.8 million, up from $24.6 million last year (library revenue this fiscal year will be slightly higher due to state aid). This department did not receive any additional staffing.
Most of our annual operating budget consists of personnel costs, and the tight labor market is a major driver of budget increases. This year’s budget includes an increase of $27 million for employee compensation. That includes $14.5 million to provide a 6% merit increase for the general County workforce, $4.6 million for a one step-increase and a 3% adjustment for uniformed Fire and Rescue personnel, $6.4 million for a one-step increase and a 6% adjustment for uniformed Sheriff’s deputies, and $1.5 million for a hiring and retention bonus program. A staff analysis demonstrated that we need those investments to remain competitive with other jurisdictions.
There are a few other new positions that are also worth highlighting:
An additional Voter Services Manager was added the Department of Elections and Voter Registration. The department does an excellent job of delivering free, fair, and secure elections in the County, and has unfortunately been bogged down with frivolous FOIA requests and other issues in the past few years. A Voter Services Manager will help reduce this workload by focusing on voter outreach and advertisement surrounding all elections.
We added another Commercial Real Estate Appraiser to the Commissioner of the Revenue’s office. This position will be primarily focused on data center appraisals to ensure that the County is collecting the appropriate amount of tax revenue from that industry.
The Department of Planning and Zoning will get a new Supervising Zoning Inspector, who will oversee inspection operations and help to enforce the County’s new Zoning Ordinance once the rewrite is complete.
Loudoun County Public Schools
The Board of Supervisors is responsible for appropriating the LCPS budget from local tax funding. The total proposed LCPS budget this year was $1.67 billion – a $107 million (6.9%) increase over last year – with $1.14 billion requested from local tax funding. The local tax funding increase request for this year was about $75 million, or 7%. Enrollment is projected to increase by only 1% and there are no new schools opening next school year. The bulk of the funding request was to provide an average 5% pay increase, account for increased costs due to inflation, and fund the addition of new programs such as International Baccalaureate, Elementary Dual Language Immersion, athletic fee elimination, and a middle school intramural sports pilot program. Not included was $3.5 million needed to implement collective bargaining at LCPS. The school board stated their intention to use fund balance from this year to cover these additional costs and just include it in the base budget for FY25. I abstained from a vote on that because I do not support collective bargaining - I believe that $3.5 million would be better spent investing directly in our teachers and our classrooms, and I expect that administrative number to grow even more once it is fully implemented.
The County Administrator’s proposed budget provided LCPS with $69.1 million over last year, but left a $6.2 million gap from the schools’ request. Complicating things, the State announced an estimation tool error that led school divisions to anticipate higher revenue from the State for this year and next year. The total impact to LCPS was $7.4 million in FY24.
The Board ultimately voted to increase the transfer to LCPS by another $3 million, bringing the total budget $1,139,827,376 – an increase of $72,068,040 or 6.7% from last year and nearly meeting the entire $1.14 billion request.
During my time on the Board, per-pupil spending has increased from just over $11,000 to $19,903, signifying our commitment to the students, teachers, educators, administrators, and parents of LCPS. I do want to mention that during a meeting with the School Board, I expressed my continued frustration over the lack of transparency at LCPS related to sexual assaults, and in particular the failure to release the internal report about the Broad Run and Stone Bridge incidents. Given that the Board of Supervisors does not have line item budget authority over the schools, our ability to impact where expenditures are made is limited, and I have no desire to “punish” teachers or students for what I think have been some management failures. I do appreciate the Interim Superintendent’s work to try to improve dialogue with parents as well as the School Board’s actions to implement some policy changes related to the Grand Jury’s recommendations. However, I think there is still work to be done to regain public trust.
School-Related Capital Projects
ES-32 is a Dulles South elementary school and will be co-located with Lightridge High School and Hovatter Elementary School. ES-32 will serve grades K-2, while grades 3-5 will use Hovatter. Construction is funded in FY24, with total funding at $63.5 million. Right now, we expect ES-32 to be operational for the 2024-2025 school year and serve 960 elementary students.
ES-34 is a Dulles North elementary school on a proffered site in the Silver District West development. Construction is funded beginning in FY27, with an estimated completion date of FY30. Total funding is anticipated at $76.9 million.
HS-14 will be a Dulles North high school that will be co-located with MS-14 (which is situated on the Rouse Property on Evergreen Mills Road and should be operational in the fall of 2024; the site will one day house an elementary school as well). Construction funding has been moved up to FY25 with the total anticipated cost being $202.9 million. Project completion is estimated in FY29.
Facility renewals and alterations
$254.7 million is set aside in the CIP for replacements, repairs, and updates to critical systems such as heating, air conditioning, ventilation, etc. at LCPS facilities Countywide. $304.6 million is set aside in future years.
School bus replacement and acquisition
$56.3 million is set aside in the current CIP for annual school bus replacement and acquisition, with $48.3 million set aside in future years.
School bus radio replacements
$14.4 million is set aside in the current CIP for periodic updates to radio systems on the County’s school buses.
School security improvements
$31.2 million is set aside in the current CIP for security improvements to LCPS facilities Countywide. Security enhancements will include door hardware, exterior door electronic access locks, upgraded intrusion detection systems, electronics and controls at building entries to manage visitor access, additional security cameras, and interim security vestibules.
Student welcome center
A student welcome center is planned to open in Sterling this year. It will cost $7.7 million and will provide space for instructional program registration needs and pupil services support staff.
Capital Improvement Program
The approved CIP totals about $3.5 billion for the next six years. In this year’s budget, 40 of our newly created positions will directly support the CIP. The largest single category of projects is transportation at 36% (County projects take up 35% and school projects take up 29%), but the CIP also contains plans for schools, parks, LCPS capital projects, and other amenities. When I was first elected in 2011, the County was not in the road construction business and the Commonwealth was no longer meeting their obligations on transportation infrastructure. The Board at the time acted quickly to dedicate two cents from the tax rate for transportation projects and added several projects to our CIP. Many of those have been completed already, such as Tall Cedars Parkway, Loudoun County Parkway, Claiborne Parkway, Northstar Boulevard, and Route 606.
While you may recognize many of the projects below from past correspondences, the information here is the latest and most accurate we have regarding timelines and funding amounts. I’m only covering projects that are still in our CIP for future planning here. I continue to discuss completed and in-progress projects, as well as projects proffered by developers, in my monthly newsletters, which you can find here.
Arcola Mills Drive
Arcola Mills Drive (previously Evergreen Mills Road) will be widened from Belmont Ridge Road to Stone Springs Boulevard at a total cost of $57.6 million. Construction funding will begin in FY25, with an estimated completion year of FY30. This portion of Arcola Mills Drive will be a three-lane roadway with a continuous left turn lane and right turn lanes spaced between Belmont Ridge and Stone Springs. Construction includes intersection improvements at Belmont Ridge and Stone Springs and a new bridge over the South Fork of the Broad Run. The road will feature a sidewalk on one side and a shared use path on the other.
Braddock Road Widening
We are currently in design for widening Braddock Road to four lanes from the eastern entrance of Paul VI to Loudoun County Parkway. Construction is expected to begin in FY27.The total project cost is $44 million, and the Board recently endorsed the location and design guidelines for the project.
Fairfax County has approved an agreement with VDOT to move forward on improvements to Braddock Road and Old Lee Road. This allows VDOT to begin preliminary engineering and design to straighten the “S” curve and intersection improvements as recommended in the safety study that was completed in 2020. This has been a major priority for me. Several years ago, I requested a VDOT study on the safety and operations of the Braddock Road corridor, which led to action. Design is expected to take up to 2 years before land acquisition and utility relocation will begin to allow for construction.
Croson Lane will be widened to four lanes between Claiborne Parkway and Old Ryan Road. A sidewalk will be constructed on one side and a shared use path on the other. Estimated completion is FY27, with construction funding starting in FY25. The total anticipated cost is $18.8 million. Design is underway.
Dulles West Boulevard
The four-lane median-divided roadway between Arcola Boulevard and Northstar Boulevard will cost $78.7 million and include shared use paths on both sides of the road and a bridge over the South Fork of the Broad Run. Currently it is in design with estimated project completion in FY27.
Northstar Boulevard will be widened from Tall Cedars Parkway to Braddock Road; the project is budgeted at $39 million with the bulk of construction funding becoming available in FY27. The current anticipated completion is FY30. The design is being developed and will include plans for a tunnel to allow for safer access to the school and park sites on the west side of the road.
Route 50/Loudoun County Parkway Interchange
Construction funding for this project is not included in the current CIP because the project is estimated to cost $300 million and will require regional, state, and federal dollars to bring to fruition. We recently received $32 million in NVTA funding that will help to fund design and right of way acquisition. During this year’s budget, I was able to reallocate $26 million in funding from the Prentice Drive project - which I don’t think is essential - in order to fund land acquisition for the interchange in FY28. There is no timeline for completion of the overall project yet.
Route 50 Northern Collector Road
The Route 50 Northern Collector Road would serve as an alternative to 50 that would connect from Tall Cedars Parkway to Route 28 at the Air and Space Parkway interchange. This may be the most challenging project we’ve ever attempted. We continue working with MWAA and Fairfax County on the necessary cooperation to keep this project a reality. The current cost in the CIP is $246.9 million, with construction not yet in the six-year plan. Design is funded in FY26 and land acquisition is funded in FY28. The benefits of this project are clear: it will reduce congestion on 50 and the regional road network in general. However, it is not currently on the Fairfax County transportation plan. One piece of good news: as a member of the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board, I was able to get this project adopted as part of the region’s long-term plan, making it eligible for federal funding.
Shellhorn Road from Lockridge Road to Moran Road is a County-administered project. During this year’s budget cycle, the Board voted to delay the Prentice Drive project in order to accelerate the project to a new estimated construction date of FY26, with land acquisition and utility relocation to take place in FY24 and FY25. The rest of the Shellhorn projects are being helmed by developers.
Waxpool Road / Loudoun County Parkway
The intersection of Waxpool Road and Loudoun County Parkway is being improved for better traffic flow. The final plan is for triple left turn lanes onto southbound Loudoun County Parkway and a channelized free flow right turn with an acceleration lane from northbound Loudoun County Parkway onto eastbound Waxpool. There will be significant utility relocation required due to the large amount of fiber running through the intersection. The project is funded at $10.5 million and completion is estimated in FY26.
Westwind Drive will connect from Loudoun County Parkway to Old Ox Road with a sidewalk on one side, a shared use path on the other, and a bridge over the Broad Run. The design process has begun, including required federal environmental impact studies due to the planned crossing of the Broad Run. The total cost is estimated at $53.2 million with a targeted completion date of FY28.
Parks and Recreation/County Services Center Projects
This year, the Board added a Southern Loudoun Service Center and an Eastern Loudoun Community Arts Center to the Projects Identified for Future Development section of the CIP. The Finance Committee will be hearing options for the arts center later this year. The Southern Loudoun Services Center has been a priority of mine and I have been frustrated that we haven’t made more progress on development of a project to date. The idea here is to provide a County services hub for the southern part of the County similar to what we have in Sterling and Leesburg, which is not very convenient for our district. I will be working directly with staff on potential sites for these services.
The Dulles South Community Park will be co-located on the Lightridge High School site and is undergoing the County’s design process. The park will cost about $23.2 million and construction funding is planned through FY27. A completion date of FY29 has been estimated at this point.
The COVID-19 pandemic saw significantly reduced commercial revenue coupled with higher inflation, and those trends appear to be continuing. Due to a coming change in the way in which data center taxes are collected that will be mandated by the state (more on that in a future newsletter), we could be faced with an even more difficult budget in FY25. For now, I am grateful to my colleagues and County staff for working to produce a balanced budget that funds our needs while keeping a reasonable tax rate that is significantly lower than our neighbors. I am also thankful for all the members of the public who wrote, commented, spoke, and provided feedback on this year’s budget. As always, if you have any questions feel free to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to seeing you all out and about in the community this year. Take care!