Leesburg City Council is heading into the planned passage of the fiscal year 2023 budget on Tuesday evening with a slightly higher property tax rate, following changes made to the budget during its last markup session on Monday.
During its biweekly Monday evening business meeting, board members proposed a final round of changes to the spending plan proposed by chief executive Kaj Dentler. The budget process began in early February with a proposed estate tax rate of 17.6 cents, lower than the current year tax rate of 18.4 cents per $100 of assessed value. Following a raise session two weeks ago, the tax rate had risen to 17.66 cents, but management and budget manager Cole Fazenbaker said the council could dip into its unrestricted fund balance to pay for some of the proposed expenses to raise the tax rate. return to the originally proposed rate of 17.6 cents.
At 17.6 cents, most residential property tax bills would see an increase due to rapidly rising assessments. Single-family homes would see an average monthly increase of $9.33; townhouse owners would see a monthly impact of $4.67; and co-owners would see an average increase of $1.42 per month.
Vice Mayor Marty Martinez kicked things off Monday night by suggesting the council consider adjusting his own compensation. He initially proposed a 10% raise for the mayor and city council members, which would have added about $12,000 to the general fund budget and marked the first time since 2013 that the council raised its own salary.
“If anyone wants to accuse me of doing it for myself, this is my last year on the board,” Martinez reminded his colleagues ahead of the straw vote. Martinez announced an offer for the 29and House District and said he would not run for his council seat, as his current term expires at the end of the year.
The straw vote did not pass, with only Mayor Kelly Burk and Councilman Neil Steinberg joining Martinez in supporting the improvement.
Councilman Ara Bagdasarian has proposed a 10% increase in council allowances that would come into effect on January 1, after the November election. This proposal also failed.
Another Martinez proposal to move council members’ eligible health insurance plans to the same level as full-time employees also failed, with only support from Martinez, Bagdasarian and Councilwoman Kari Nacy.
Instead, a move to allow council members to receive equal cost-of-living adjustments given to city staff found majority support. As currently proposed, FY2023 would see the return of a 2% COLA for city government employees, the first time since FY2014 that this item has been in the budget. Council members would only receive the cost-of-living adjustment if this benefit was extended to all municipal government employees in a fiscal year.
Another addition to the General Fund supported by a majority of the board on Monday evening was to add a new full-time employee. The Environmental Advisory Board had approved the creation of a part-time energy officer position within the city government, to oversee and help implement energy savings in city buildings. With a need for additional help for the city’s emergency management coordinator, Dentler suggested creating a full-time position that could split time between the two roles.
Councilor Zach Cummings has received support to move forward with the option to mothball the recently acquired building on Wirt Street which, down the street, could be a candidate for the expansion of the offices of the city government. This was the least expensive option of the three presented to the council, estimated at between $75,000 and $80,000 to preserve the building in its current condition, as opposed to the more expensive options of demolishing or renovating the structure.
Finally, Nancy found support to set aside $40,000 for streetlights and street signs in areas of the city that need to be replaced. Nacy had previously approved a Neighborhood Grant scheme allowing communities to apply for assistance with improvements, but did not find majority council support. Instead, the $40,000 will become part of the Department of Public Works and Capital Projects budget and go toward replacing streetlights and signs. Department Director Renee LaFollette said city staff have been investigating the city’s street signs categorized by condition and age and will begin replacing those that are in the worst condition “and moving around the city”.
A public hearing on the property tax rate will precede the passage of the budget tonight. Tuesday’s meeting starts at 7 p.m.
To learn more about the budget, go to leesburgva.gov/budget.