During a public hearing at the Tues., Feb. 11, Herndon Town Council Session, Council unanimously approved as presented Resolution 20-G-08, to solicit public comment for consideration during the development of the Town Manager's proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2021.
"Simply put, this is an opportunity for citizens and businesses to come here and offer up suggestions they would like to see in our annual budget," said Town Manager Bill Ashton. "We are getting our revenue projections back. We are starting to crunch through some of the departmental requests in those numbers, (and) we are prepping to meet with you all in the coming week or so," Ashton said.
Councilmembers strongly urged citizens to speak out either at the public hearings or via a comment form on the Town's website, https://www.herndon-va.gov/. "This will be a tough budget season," said Councilmember Jennifer K. Baker.
During comments, Town of Herndon resident Alexander Burke asked if the Town invested reserve funds in Wall Street or maybe overseas to raise more capital. Burke asked, "What direction do you think we should go in, investing our reserve money?"
TOWN OF HERNDON RESIDENT Ann Vayda acknowledged she appreciated the arts, the rich activities the Town offered and all the subset of interests in the Town. However, she thought it "dangerous when governments get involved in arts... making artistic decisions of funding or not funding," she said. "I think it's very important that all of our hobbies and interests be self-sustaining," Vayda said.
Councilmember Bill McKenna responded to Burke's comment about the Town investing its Reserve Fund in Wall Street and global funds. According to McKenna, there were rules and regulations, namely the Dillon Rule to consider as it is used in interpreting the law about whether or not a local government has a certain power. "We can't arbitrarily put money in an international fund and things of that nature. It has to (fall) within the construct of the Virginia State Statutes," he said.
Councilmember Jennifer K. Baker said, "There's a lot of external factors at play (this budget season). There's a lot going on certainly with the Town and outside the Town that's going to impact our budget," said Baker. According to Baker, approximately 70 percent of the Town budget was for personnel. She stressed that for the Town to stay competitive and retain the great employees and the great customer service citizens had come to know and expect, Council wanted citizen input and involvement. "A budget represents your values; what you see as a town, a citizenry… We certainly want the input from as many citizens as possible in what we collectively want to invest in,” Baker said.
Vice Mayor Sheila A. Olem approached the budget conversation from a different angle. She recalled historical expenditures like money spent on the lighting on the W&OD Trail that makes it “a wonderful freeway to our downtown.” "So the things that make Herndon awesome, if we take them all away, I don't think we will be, but we all need to sit down and have the talk at the table. I love our parks. It would be really easy for us to sell all those and just collect revenue because we don't collect taxes on those because they're government-owned. But that is part of what makes Herndon absolutely awesome; having parks close enough for everyone in our Town to just take a walk…Please keep talking and sending us letters," she said.
Councilmember Pradip Dhakal said, "It's your money, and you decide how you want the money to be used." Dhakal's focus was the elimination of waste, making systems such as trash collection more efficient and labor through the reorganization of staff positions.
"I encourage us all to think bigger,” said Councilmember Signe Friedrichs. “We can't achieve a healthy economy if people don't want to live here," she said. Friedrichs referenced words spoken by Victor Hoskins at a recent meeting she attended. Hoskins helped Arlington land Amazon and now is Fairfax County's economic chief. One of the most significant problems Fairfax County encounters right now said Friedrichs is that it has "the biggest brain drain in the country."
"We train a lot of young people to be Cybersecurity experts; we train them to be computer whizzes... (And) they're leaving us. As soon as they graduate, they are going someplace else. And the main thing that they cite is the standard of living. It's more enjoyable to live somewhere that is beautiful, somewhere you can walk. Someplace where there is public transportation...Right now, we're in a good position, but I fear if this continues, Cybersecurity jobs are going to leave the area, and we will suffer a certain amount of pain from that... So please send us your comments,” said Friedrichs.
ACCORDING TO MAYOR Lisa Merkel, the Manager's proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2021 will be released on Apr. 1, "...which I always find hilarious," she said. There will be two public hearings, April 14 and 28. "But please, don't wait until then to let us hear from you," said Mayor Merkel.
Town Councilmember Cesar del Aguila could not attend the Feb. 11. hearing. Afterward, del Aguila said, "In my humble opinion, predecessor councils did the town disservice by not positioning us for growth and the expanding demand for services. Not investing in the town's future has limited us concerning budget choices and projects. We need to transform our reactive ways to proactive investing for the benefit of our town in the years ahead."
The Town's FY 2021 budget must be adopted by June 30, 2020.
Budget Comments Received Through Feb. 11
Dana Bessey: It seems noteworthy the crime in the last year is a huge problem...Perhaps this means more officers.
Barbara Glakas: Oak Grove School (was) the last segregated school in Town for African American students...As much as I would like to say, "Save this historic/meaningful building," I also realize it may not be possible if the town employees who work there are working in unhealthy conditions due to bad HVAC, leaks, mold or whatever. This has been one of those "kick the can down the road" issues...I know we have some budget constraints in the near future, but I hope some decision about 1481 can be made soon. (Oak Grove School building is located at 1481 Sterling Blvd., part of the Herndon Public Works Complex.)
Robert McCollum: Herndon Metro Stop opens toward the end of the year; traffic, parking and life as we know it in Herndon will change...As such, has Herndon planned for this type of parking "invasion"?...Does our budget account for the possible new parking signs needed and other pertinent resources needed? Does our budget account for possible additional parking enforcement resources needed to police and enforce this 24 x 7?
Charles Williams: Focus on reducing mailing costs for the Town...Eliminate the mailing of paper water bills...Eliminate the annual calendar's mass mailings...Calendars should not be discontinued...(Distribute) on an opt-in basis, copies available at locations as the Community Center...Establish a task force to use business practices such as Lean Six Sigma.