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 four 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 some specific project is very important, but too large to fund directly, should we turn to using bonds for financing.
Voters in Loudoun County, Virginia, will be asked in a referendum to authorize the county to issue up to $93,940,000 in general obligation bonds for school projects. These would be used to finance the design, construct, and equip “middle school classroom additions;” the costs to design, construct, and equip a new Dulles North Middle School; and “other public school facilities.”
About sixty-eight percent of Loudoun County’s annual budget goes to the schools. For the 2020 fiscal year, the county will be writing a check to Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) in the amount of $1,055,158,853 . . . over a billion dollars. LCPS receives another $391 million from the Commonwealth of Virginia, $32 million from the federal government, $1 million from “other,” and lots more nickel-and-dime sources. All-told, across all budgets, LCPS plans to spend a mind-boggling $1,744,119,265 in the 2020 fiscal year . . . over $1.7 billion.
LCPS estimates that its 2020 enrollment will be 83,762 students, an increase of less than two percent over the previous year. But LCPS has increased their annual budget by more than seven percent, far more than would be justified by the combined effects of inflation and enrollment.
The “official” annual cost per-pupil is listed as $15,241, but this, as always, is an outright lie. The calculation is made by dividing only the operating budget by the number of students, and ignores separate budgets for capital improvement, debt service, school nutrition, asset preservation, vehicle maintenance, and more. The real annual cost per-pupil is more than thirty-seven percent higher than advertised: about $20,822 per student.
Like most of America’s school systems, LCPS is not underfunded, it is just poorly managed and wasteful. In the absence of a top-to-bottom education reform effort, and a long-overdue critical accounting of where LCPS’s money is going and why, we should not incur any new debt for schools. I strongly endorse a NO vote on the School Projects bond referendum.
Public Safety Projects
Voters in Loudoun County, Virginia, will be asked in a referendum to authorize the county to issue up to $22,870,000 in general obligation bonds for public safety projects. These would be used to finance the costs to design, construct, and equip a Fire and Rescue Recruit Training Facility; the costs to design, construct, and equip Leesburg South Fire Station Renovations; and “other public safety facilities.”
Loudoun County has budgeted about ninety-six million dollars for Loudoun County Fire and Rescue (LCFR) for the 2020 fiscal year. The overwhelming majority of that funding comes from the county’s general fund. Funding for LCFR accounts for about three percent of the county’s annual budget.
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. And the portion of this referendum meant for the recruit training facility falls into that category. The renovation of the Leesburg South Fire Station, however, should be funded out of the general fund. The Board of Supervisors has chosen to bundle these together, so we must either accept or reject the issuance of bonds for both.
I endorse a YES vote on the Public Safety Projects bond referendum, but I continue to ask that the county reduce its reliance on debt to fund mundane things like the renovation of existing facilities.
Parks and Recreation Projects
Voters in Loudoun County, Virginia, will be asked in a referendum to authorize the county to issue up to $41,795,000 in general obligation bonds for parks and recreation projects. These would be used to finance the costs to design, construct, and equip Fields Farm Park; the costs to design, construct, and equip Lovettsville District Park Phase II; the costs to design, construct, and equip Philip A. Bolen Park Phase II; the costs to design, construct, and equip Scott Jenkins Park Phase III; and “other public park, recreational, and community center facilities.”
Loudoun County has earmarked about fifty-three million dollars for the department of Parks, Recreation, and Community Services (PRCS) in the 2020 fiscal year, which is roughly two percent of the county’s budget. Meanwhile, nearly seventy percent of the county’s budget is tied up with our ineffective and over-funded schools.
We could easily fund all of PRCS’s capital expenses through the general fund without incurring unnecessary debt. A redirection of just a small fraction of the school budget would easily pay for these projects. I endorse a NO vote on the Parks and Recreation Projects bond referendum.
Voters in Loudoun County, Virginia, will be asked in a referendum to authorize the county to issue up to $56,885,000 in general obligation bonds for transportation projects. These would be used to finance the costs to design and construct Route 7 pedestrian crossings; the costs to design and construct an interchange at Route 7 and Hillsboro Road; the costs to design and construct a roundabout at Route 50 and Trailhead Boulevard; the costs to design and construct improvements to Westwind Drive; the costs to design and construct a Sterling Boulevard and W&OD Trail overpass; and “other public road and transportation projects.”
Loudoun County budgets only about one percent of its annual revenue for transportation projects, which is an embarrassingly low amount in a county that is growing so rapidly. A significant amount of school funding—which accounts for an insane sixty-eight percent of the county’s budget—should be redirected to these more beneficial and effective projects, at least until the schools can show themselves to be good stewards of their largess.
Regardless, we need to expand and improve our transportation network, and debt is how the Board of Supervisors has chosen to do it. The proposed improvements that will be funded by these bonds are important, and they are legitimate capital expenses. I continue to urge the county to allocate more of its general fund for transportation and reduce its reliance on debt, but, in the meantime, these projects need to move forward. I endorse a YES vote on the Transportation Projects bond referendum.