Now that the Town of Leesburg’s budget for Fiscal Year 2012 is online, it is worth taking another look at some of the tough decisions the Town Council and staff made this year to deliver a responsible, balanced budget.
The central theme of the budget is long-term budget sustainability. As Town Manager John Wells pointed out in his transmittal letter, the council had identified sustainability as a strategic goal.
“The importance of long-term budget sustainability was evident in light of the effects of the severe recession on our residents and its ripple impacts on the federal, state, and county governments,” he wrote.
The FY 2012 budget takes a long view by including revenue forecasts for the general fund, capital projects fund, and enterprise funds not just for 2012, but five years beyond – all the way through 2017. It also includes a provisional budget for FY 2013 and a six-year capital improvements program.
Wells knows a lot about budgeting. He was the county’s budget director for many years before taking over the helm as Leesburg’s Town Manager, and he earned a stellar reputation in that position. He
is therefore well aware of the need for making conservative revenue forecasts, and the town’s budget reflects that sense of caution.
The budget also makes realistic economic and political assumptions. It assumes an economic recovery that is “modest at best,” and no changes in the real estate tax rate for the next three years. It also budgets for a “most likely scenario” rather than a “worst case scenario” – an honest, realistic approach. Budgeting for the worst case scenario could lead to unnecessarily high tax rates, low service levels, or both.
Wells pointed out that, in the past, the council had tried to weather the recession by keeping tax bills low, limiting impacts on services, and adhering to sound fiscal policies.
He also told me that, while he had hoped to be able to get through the recession without laying off staff members, taking a hard look at long-term financial sustainability had made it apparent that this goal could not be met. The Loudoun County government had already undergone several years of staff layoffs coupled with a pay freeze, and now the town would also have to bite the bullet and make some staff reductions.
The cuts were painful. In all, 28 regular, full-time positions were eliminated. Several other part-time, temporary or frozen positions were also cut, equivalent to about four more full-time positions (FTEs). A town workforce of about 441.18 FTEs last year was reduced by about seven percent, to 410.26 in FY 2012.
Among the positions that were eliminated were:
- Two in the Town Manager’s office – an assistant to the Town Manager and a community development coordinator;
- Three finance staff members, in purchasing and accounting;
- Three part-time or temporary staff members in human resources;
- A web developer and network administrator in information technology;
- Two public works employees responsible for engineering and inspections;
- Two public works employees responsible for streets and grounds maintenance, including an assistant superintendent;
- Four parks and recreation staff members, including a recreation supervisor, two assistant outreach coordinators and an assistant
- A library specialist at the Thomas Balch Library;
- Five positions in planning and zoning (of a total of 16 in the department), including two planners, the urban forester, a zoning inspector, and an administrative associate;
- An administrative associate in plan review;
- Two positions in capital projects management;
- Three positions in utilities maintenance and water pollution control; and
- The director of the Leesburg Executive Airport.
Some of these staff reductions will have direct service impacts. The Balch Library, for example, will have reduced public hours and services.
Other reductions will be less apparent to the public, but will be felt by the remaining staff, who will struggle to meet service expectations with fewer co-workers to share the workload.
It was clear that the Town Council and staff did not enjoy the budget process this year. It’s not enjoyable to put staff members out of work, to reduce service levels, and to deny funding to deserving programs and organizations.
But they should be proud of the difficult decisions they made to deliver an honest, responsible budget with both eyes clearly focused on long-term sustainability.