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Loudoun Weighs Silver Line Options

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Construction crews work on the Silver Line to Dulles International Airport. 
Wayan Vota <http://www.flickr.com/photos/dcmetroblogger/5178382413/>
Construction crews work on the Silver Line to Dulles International Airport. 

This is the first article in an ongoing series.

With time running down to a critical deadline, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors is weighing a range of options to pay for the county's $270 million commitment to Phase 2 of the Silver Line Metro rail project to Dulles Airport.  The alternatives under consideration — and the scant time to reach a decision — are raising questions long asked by the project's critics, who say the multi-billion dollar undertaking is poorly planned and unfair to Loudoun taxpayers.

Loudoun lawmakers have until July 4 to decide whether to opt out of the $2.7 billion project that would complete the rail link to the airport and beyond into the county suburbs.  Phase 1 of the Silver line will end short of the airport at Wiehle Avenue in Reston.

The Loudoun County Board will hold a work session Monday, June 18 on the proposed funding options, which include creating special tax districts to tax developers around the planned Metro stops, a countywide transportation service district that would provide money for both rail and road improvements and a commercial and industrial tax. 

Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles), who is leaning toward voting to opt into the project, released a letter to his constituents on Tuesday in which he laid out the financing options and his reasons for supporting the county's participation in the project.

"Depending on exactly how we finance the project, the amount that we'll have to spend each year is fairly easily absorbed in the budget without having to do anything significant to raise taxes," said Letourneau, who has argued that the county's general fund could  possibly cover the Phase 2 costs.  

The board would not have adequate time to actually implement any long-term financing plan before the July 4 deadline, but may present to the public a framework of its intentions.  Some supervisors say a mere framework is inadequate considering the potential burden on taxpayers for years to come.

"It's going to take a combination of having a dedicated funding for highways, buses, and rail for me to support the project," said Supervisor Ken Reid (R-Leesburg), who is leaning toward voting to opt out.  "I would love to have a special tax district.  The problem is there are not a lot of tax ratables there to keep the rate reasonable," referring to the current lack of development around the future Metro stops west of the airport, a sentiment shared by Letourneau.

"Frankly, those [tax districts] would not generate a tremendous amount of revenue, especially in the next couple years, because our areas are not developed," Letourneau said.  However, as he described in his letter to constituents, Letourneau is satisfied the county can afford the project and should opt in while still figuring out the financing.

Supervisor Reid said the process is backwards.  "If you don't get economic development, which is very likely because it is at the end of the rail line, then taxpayers are stuck holding the bag," he said.

Reid also doubts a tax only on businesses would work.  "If you tax our businesses only to pay for Metro, it puts them at a disadvantage to businesses in Fairfax, Prince William and other jurisdictions," said Reid, pointing to Loudoun's less densely developed landscape.  "The promise of Metro for Loudoun County is not what a lot of people think it will be."

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