By Jim Burton
From January 1, 1996 until January 1, 2012, I served on the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors. During this period, the County underwent the most dramatic changes in its history. The population grew from approximately 120,000 to over 320,000 as thousands of acres of farmland were converted into sprawling suburban subdivisions. Loudoun became one of the fastest growing counties in the nation, at times even the fastest growing.
The school system grew from 17,000 students in the mid-1990’s to over 67,000 in 2011 as 46 new schools were built and opened. A predominantly all-volunteer fire and rescue system painfully changed to a system dominated by career firefighters and EMT specialists. Demand for playing fields and other recreational facilities soared. Traffic came to a halt.
Old Loudoun slowly faded as a new Loudoun emerged.
Building the infrastructure to support such an explosive growth in population was – and continues to be – a challenge. The need for new schools, libraries, firehouses, community centers, jails, ballfields, and roads, mostly funded by long-term debt and all requiring new staff to operate, has led to a continuing upward pressure on homeowners’ property taxes. During this period, the long-term debt went from $150 million to $1.2 billion and the average homeowners’ yearly tax bill grew from $1,900 to over $5,000. Yet, many residents could not – or would not – make this obvious connection. Some had significant financial stakes in a “business as usual, growth at any cost” mindset. Others were committed to an ideology of absolute property rights and laissez-faire economics. Still others were busy with school schedules and career calendars, with no time and energy to pay attention to what their government was doing. Some residents, however, did make the connection between growth and taxes and worked hard to change the system. I was one of them.
Pendulum politics has been the result of these pressures. Over the past 16 years the County has seen entire Boards turnover every four years as a pro-growth Board of Supervisors is replaced by a slow-growth Board, followed by another pro-growth Board, and so on – back and forth from one extreme to the other. Issues visited by one Board were reversed by the next Board and then modified yet again by the following Board. Questions about ethics and transparency emerged; front page news stories reported on the spectacle. Lawsuits were fought and settled. The pressure to locate public facilities – somewhere, anywhere – led to fierce debates between neighbors and the bitter ending of more than one friendship. It has been an interesting time.
During this tumultuous period, I published a steady stream of newsletters, citizens’ alerts, analyses, presentations, and briefings, which dealt with the issues and controversies as they unfolded. Most were posted on my County website; with my retirement, the County removed them from its website. However, the issues they addressed continue to be debated and several people suggested that I find a new home for these documents, so that the history they report and the analysis they provide would not be lost. Hence, the primary objective for this website is to provide an archive of sorts for those who may be interested in researching the history of that period or who continue to be active in the political debate. However, as new issues unfold or new wrinkles on old issues surface, I will occasionally add to this archive with my thoughts and comments or even some new documents.
The first of these additions, unavailable elsewhere, is a searchable compilation of the campaign finance reports for the winning Board of Supervisors candidates in the 2011 elections. Since the County website has changed format, these materials are no longer available online, except for the shortened form available at www.vpap.org. My wife, Lina, has twice requested that the links to this information be made operational, but as of this writing, that has not yet been done. It is important that this information be available to the public, and the lack of its availability on the County site is troubling. Fortunately, she had downloaded these materials prior to their disappearing from the County site, and has compiled them for inclusion here.
The second of these additions concerns Political Action Committee (PAC) donations to the winning Board of Supervisors candidates. Using the www.vpap.org website, Lina analyzed the donations from the PACs and put them into a searchable database so it is clear exactly where the money donated to the candidates through PACs came from. It’s an eye-opener, and unavailable anyplace else.
Finally, although this site is not intended to be a forum and will not offer a public comment functionality, I would be happy to hear from individuals with questions or ideas. The site contains a link to my email address where anyone who wishes can contact me.
Jim Burton’s website will be on the air on or about June 15 and can be found at www.jimburton.org.