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 three 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 be used only 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 $135,026,000 in general obligation bonds for school projects. These would be used for the design and construction of the ES-32 Dulles South Elementary School, public school facility renewals and alterations, the Valley Service Center replacement and bus parking, and “other public school facilities.”
I am so tired of these referendums. There are school bonds on almost every ballot these days.
About 63.5% percent of Loudoun County’s annual tax revenues go to the schools. For the 2022 fiscal year, the county will be transferring about $1.19 billion to Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS). LCPS gets another $448 million from the Commonwealth of Virginia, $37 million from the federal government, $261 million from fees, and $199 million or so from debt proceeds and other sources. Across all budgets, LCPS plans to spend a mind-boggling $1,962,848,701 in the 2022 fiscal year. Yes, that’s just a little short of two billion dollars.
LCPS is estimating that its 2022 enrollment will be 85,867, an increase of only 0.1% over the previous year’s estimates (and a 5.4% increase over the actual 2021 enrollment; the numbers are unusually misaligned due to the COVID-19 pandemic). Because enrollment was low during the pandemic, but the schools still got the normal amount of funding, they should be awash in money. Their request for another round of debt is even more disconnected from reality this year than it has been in the past.
The annual cost-per-pupil is listed by the school system at $17,120, but, as always, that figure is a lie. It is calculated against only the operating budget and ignores the separate budgets for capital improvement, debt service, school nutrition, asset preservation, vehicle maintenance, and more. The real annual cost-per-pupil is more than 33% higher than advertised: $22,860. Imagine what responsible parents could do with that money if we just gave it to them instead of handing it over to our dysfunctional public schools to be burned.
LCPS is not underfunded. If anything, it is overfunded. I have said it before, and I’ll keep saying it until the voters listen. We should not incur even one cent in new debt for schools until they make a detailed critical accounting of where their largess is going and why, and, more importantly, embark upon a complete top-to-bottom reform program.
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 $7,190,000 in general obligation bonds for public safety projects. These would be used for the design and construction of a Fire and Rescue Basic Training Facility, design and construction of Fire and Rescue Station #28 in Leesburg South, and “other public safety facilities.”
Loudoun County has budgeted about $114 million for Loudoun County Fire and Rescue (LCFR) for the 2022 fiscal year. The overwhelming majority of that funding comes from the county’s general fund, and LCFR accounts for about 6.1% of the county’s annual tax expenditures.
In a fast-growing county like ours, some debt is necessary to pay for the expansion of our public safety infrastructure—new fire stations, new equipment, and so on. The training facility and the new fire station are justified. I endorse a YES vote on the Public Safety Projects bond referendum.
Voters in Loudoun County, Virginia, will be asked in a referendum to authorize the county to issue up to $68,243,000 in general obligation bonds for transportation projects. These would be used to improve the intersection of Evergreen Mills Road, Reservoir Road, and Watson Road; improve intersections on Farmwell Road; build a roundabout at the intersection of Route 9 and Route 287; extend Shellhorn Road between the Dulles Airport property and Moran Road; improve the intersection of Waxpool Road and Loudoun County Parkway; and “other public road and transportation projects.”
Loudoun County has budgeted only $31.1 million for transportation in 2022, which is about 1.7% of the county’s annual tax expenditures. This is a mere drop in the bucket. The county must allocate much more funding for transportation projects. We have the money; we need to stop wasting it on less important things.
We should not need to incur massive new public debts every time we want to realign an intersection or widen a road. And yet, as in past years, there is an urgent need to make these improvements. They cannot be put off. I reluctantly endorse a YES vote on the Transportation Projects bond referendum, but I continue to ask the Board of Supervisors to start prioritizing transportation funding and reduce its reliance on public debt for routine road improvements.