Whenever a politician goes out of his way to issue a denial of something that ought to go without saying (“I am not a crook!”), it’s a good sign there’s something worth looking into there.
So when Supervisor Shawn Williams (R-Broad Run) told us “I was not trying to be ideological or capricious with any of my votes” on the 2013 county budget, it’s a good bet that there in fact was, well, plenty ideological and capricious.
All of the supervisors have been busy this week congratulating themselves on reducing the average tax bill to our hard-pressed residents by $144 apiece in the final budget, passed this week. Our hard-working public servants achieved this chiefly by slashing $22 million out of the school budget, a figure arrived at on the entirely non-capricious basis that it was exactly 50% of the entirely non-capricious $44 million the supervisors had originally demanded. That figure, in turn, was arrived at on the entirely non-capricious basis that it would yield exactly a 5% reduction in the property tax rate.
Just where the schools will find $22 million to cut, even as their enrollment increases by 2,500 students next year, is up to them!
Among the other strictly non-ideological budget cuts the board approved purely in the interests of government efficiency and high-minded tax-cutting fiscal responsibility were:
• elimination of the Loudoun Drug Court, a program that provided alternative sentencing and treatment for drug offenders, for a savings of 0.01% of the county budget
• elimination of the Extension Service Urban Horticulture program, saving the county 0.005% of its budget while eliminating 14,000 hours of free work volunteered by 167 members of the Master Gardener program
* elimination of the staff position in the building and development office responsible for archeological review of building sites, saving the county 0.002% of its budget
Of course Supervisor Williams is correct that some of these actions were not ideological or capricious at all: they were merely payoffs to campaign contributors in the commercial development industry, or petty acts of revenge against other parts of the community. The Board’s elimination of the illegal-sign cleanup program was both; and then Supervisor Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn) saw a fine chance to revive the familiar Loudoun GOP contempt for Western Loudoun by contemptuously dismissing plans for a park in Lovettsville with this explanation:
It is like we’re just preserving this land out there and creating parks, and we can’t get soccer fields in the east. . . . We need to begin to start thinking about where our population lives. The reality is, these were all planned out a long time ago but they are not serving the population.
(The Lovettsville park was finally approved this week at the last minute when the board reversed its earlier 6–3 vote against it.)
The larger point, though, is that the reason property taxes have risen so much is the result of one thing and one thing only: the enormous growth in the county, directly fueled by previous developer-friendly Republic-majority boards, which threw aside the planning restraints that had tried to keep growth to a sustainable level. As a result, the population of the county tripled in 20 years. In that time the typical property tax bill of a resident also nearly tripled.
The math is simple: each additional student costs the county schools more than $10,000 a year in instructional costs. The average house in the county, assessed at about $400,000, pays less than half that in property taxes. Guess where the difference gets made up? (If you said higher tax rates, go to the head of the class. And that’s not to mention the capital costs of building all of those new schools, which runs to about $20,000 for each additional student.)
We’re going to keep paying that price for a long time to come. It’s political skulduggery for the Loudoun GOP to now try to use the crisis they themselves created as the excuse to kill off programs they oppose on ideological grounds. (“We made this mess, and you people are going to pay for it.”)
Watch for more fun when the Government “Reform” Commission produces its recommendations for the elimination of other programs “not inherently governmental,” as Buona eloquently put it, and their promised purely objective rational “formulaic construct” (sounds impressive, doesn’t it) to insure that spending in future budgets is directed on a completely objective formulaic basis to the eastern half of the county and to business interests.