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 $268,224,000 in general obligation bonds for school projects. These would be used to build a new high school in Dulles North (HS-14), renovate or replace Park View High School, make school security improvements, install a new traffic signal at the Valley Service Center, renew and alter other school facilities, and provide funding for “other public school facilities as requested by the Loudoun County School Board.”
Nearly every year we are asked to take out massive new public debts for our schools, which already get about 62% of the tax dollars raised by Loudoun County each year. That’s $1,243,497,024—or $1.24 billion—in the county budget for the 2023 fiscal year. The schools get more than law enforcement, fire and rescue, roads and highways, public transport, courts and corrections, public health, parks and recreation, social services, elections, and every other county service . . . combined.
The Loudoun County Public Schools planned to expend about $1.96 billion in its adopted budget for the 2022 fiscal year, the most recent available budget. That was a 14.3% increase over the previous year, even though enrollment was only expected to increase by 0.1% and the inflation rate at the time was only about 1.4%. The annual cost-per-pupil listed by the school system was $17,120, but that number excludes separate budgets for capital improvement, debt service, school nutrition, asset preservation, vehicle maintenance, and more. The real annual cost-per-pupil is more than a third higher than advertised: $22,860.
Now, in addition to these long-simmering financial shenanigans, other events have turned our schools and our school board into a national embarrassment. They are hocking racially charged curricula and postmodern anti-humanism, mishandling sexual assaults, and trying to silence concerned parents. Our schools are no longer just mismanaged; they are a direct threat to the wellbeing of the children in their care and the broader public good. They deserve prosecution, not funding.
I strongly endorse a NO vote on the School Projects bond referendum.
Public Facility Projects
Voters in Loudoun County, Virginia, will be asked in a referendum to authorize the county to issue up to $74,714,000 in general obligation bonds for public facilities. These would be used to build a replacement fire and rescue station in Round Hill, build the Western Loudoun Recreation Center, and provide funding for “other public safety facilities” and “other public park, recreational and community center projects approved in the County’s Capital Improvement Program.”
Traditionally, public safety projects are considered separately from parks and recreation projects. The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors has combined them into a single referendum this year. According to the county’s budget, about $8.1 million (or 11%) of this referendum is intended for public safety, and the remaining $66.6 million (89%) is intended for parks and recreation projects.
A parks and recreation referendum could be dismissed out of hand. We live in one of the richest localities in the America, and the funds for building one measly recreation center should come out of the general fund. Redirect some of the schools’ obscene largess and call it a day. There is no need to incur public debt for this purpose, especially in the current economic environment.
The public safety portion of this referendum deserves more serious consideration. We live in a rapidly growing county. It would be difficult or impossible for our public safety infrastructure to keep pace with that growth without incurring debt. But the voters approved $15.6 million of bond debt for replacing the Round Hill station in 2017. Why is the Board of Supervisors double-dipping? If the cost of the project went up, why resort to more debt to make up the difference?
This referendum is a trick. Don’t fall for it.
I endorse a NO vote on the Public Facility Projects bond referendum.
Voters in Loudoun County, Virginia, will be asked in a referendum to authorize the county to issue up to $51,314,000 in general obligation bonds for transportation projects. These would be used to extend Crosstrail Boulevard, build two new roundabouts near the intersection of Route 15 and Route 50, build the second and third phases of the Route 7 improvement project, build an overpass for the W&OD trail over Sterling Boulevard, and provide funding for “other public road and transportation projects approved in the County’s Capital Improvement Program.”
Only 1.7% of the county’s revenue for the 2023 fiscal year is appropriated for transportation projects. That’s embarrassing. We continue to see significant commercial and population growth, and our road infrastructure is falling further behind the curve. We have the money; we need to stop wasting it on less important things.
Most of the projects to be funded by this referendum are legitimate capital expenses, and they are important enough to justify incurring debt. An exception is the plan to add two new roundabouts to the existing four-roundabout complex near the intersection of Route 15 and Route 50. Roundabouts are fine short-term solutions to improve safety and flow where busy two-lane roads meet, but 15 and 50 should not be two-lane roads anymore. They should have been four-line highways ten years ago. It’s long past time to widen the roads and build the permanent intersections (or interchanges) that will accommodate growth for years or decades into the future. No more stopgaps.
We must start appropriating more of the general fund to transportation projects, and we must take a longer view when planning and prioritizing transportation projects. But we can’t wait until that happens to move forward on the projects that are ready-to-go.
I reluctantly endorse a YES vote on the Transportation Projects bond referendum.