Loudoun County Bond Referendums, 2017

Loudoun County

Article VII, Section 10, of the Constitution of Virginia requires local governments to obtain voter approval to issue bonds. Voters in Loudoun County, Virginia, will be asked to consider two bond referendums on this year’s ballot.

Bonds are debt. When they are sold, the issuing government receives an influx of cash from the purchasers. But, like a bank loan, that money must be repaid over time with interest.

Like any other loan, bonds should only be used when necessary. Most projects should be funded directly from the general fund (i.e., from the “money in the bank”). Only when a particular project is very important, but too large to fund directly, should we turn to using bonds for financing.

Public Safety Projects

Voters in Loudoun County, Virginia, will be asked in a referendum to authorize the county to issue up to $15,660,000 in general obligation bonds for public safety projects. These would be used to finance the design and construction of a replacement Round Hill Fire Station, and costs related to “other public safety facilities.”

Loudoun County has budgeted about eighty-two million dollars for Loudoun County Fire and Rescue (LCFR) for the 2018 fiscal year. The overwhelming majority of that funding comes from the county’s general fund. Funding for LCFR accounts for about five percent of the county’s annual budget.

We live in one of the fastest growing counties in the United States in terms of population, and LCFR has done a good job coping with this growth. Not only have they kept pace with a changing county, but they continually provide high quality service even as they are faced with a number of unique challenges . . . not least of which being the presence of one of the nation’s largest airports on our eastern border, a river on our northern border, suburban sprawl in the east, and rural agriculture in the west.

In a fast-growing county like ours, debt is necessary to pay for the expansion of our public safety infrastructure—new fire stations, new equipment, and so on. In this case, the county is asking for nearly sixteen million dollars to replace an existing station. Normally, I am inclined to treat replacement and improvement of existing stations as ongoing ‘regular maintenance’ that should be funded from the general fund. In this case, however, it is more like a new expansion. The existing Round Hill Fire Station is a ‘small town’ station in a place that is quickly turning into a sprawling suburb. It needs to be replaced with an appropriately modern facility.

I endorse a YES vote on the Public Safety Projects bond referendum.

School Projects

Voters in Loudoun County, Virginia, will be asked in a referendum to authorize the county to issue up to $81,761,000 in general obligation bonds for school projects. These would be used to finance design and construction of the C.S. Monroe Technology Center and Douglass School renovations, synthetic turf and track resurfacing at high schools, security improvements at sixty schools, school bus replacements and acquisitions, and “other public school facilities.”

Nearly seventy percent of Loudoun County’s annual budget goes to the schools. For the 2018 fiscal year, the county will be writing a check to Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) in the amount of $897,888,296. That is nearly nine-tenths of a billion dollars.

But the county isn’t the only source of school funding. LCPS receives another $346.2 million from the Commonwealth of Virginia, $26.9 million from the federal government, $230.3 million from “charges for services,” and lots more nickel-and-dime sources. All-told, across all budgets, LCPS plans to spend $1,552,671,496 in the 2018 fiscal year. Yes, that is more than $1.5 billion.

LCPS estimates that its 2018 enrollment will be 81,622 students, an increase of about four percent over the previous year . . . and yet their budget contains an inexplicable fifteen percent increase in spending. The “official” annual cost per-pupil is listed as $13,688, but, as in past years, this is an outright lie. School systems in the United States hide their actual per-pupil costs by calculating them against the annual operating budget. They “forget” to mention the separate budgets for capital improvement, debt service, school nutrition, asset preservation, vehicle maintenance, and more. If you divide the total LCPS budget by the projected number of students, you will get a much more accurate number . . . one that is nearly forty percent higher than advertised: $19,022 per student.

Like most of America’s schools, LCPS is not underfunded. The United States spends more per-year on each student than almost any other country in the world, and yet our schools consistently under-perform their lesser-funded peers. And despite their more-than-generous level of funding, LCPS wants us to put yet another $82 million on the county credit card. And next year they’ll be back again asking for yet another big, fat check. And then again the year after.

In the absence of a top-to-bottom education reform effort, as well as a critical accounting of where LCPS’s largess is going and why, it would be insane to give them even a cent more. I strongly endorse a NO vote on the School Projects bond referendum.

Scott Bradford is a writer and technologist who has been putting his opinions online since 1995. He believes in three inviolable human rights: life, liberty, and property. He is a Catholic Christian who worships the trinitarian God described in the Nicene Creed. Scott is a husband, nerd, pet lover, and AMC/Jeep enthusiast with a B.S. degree in public administration from George Mason University.