The Board of Supervisors had no choice but to cut three cents from the proposed property tax rate.
The board decreased the tax rate from $1.08 to $1.05 for every $100 of assessed value during the eight-hour board meeting Monday.
"A $1.05 rate is better than $1.08, but not as good as it could be," said Supervisor Drew Hiatt (R-Dulles), mentioning the national recession and unemployment in the area as reasons to make further reductions. "This is not the time … to go on a spending spree," he said.
The new rate will help shoulder the fiscal year 2003 budget of $862.7 million, trimmed by nearly $13 million from the supervisors' proposed budget of $875.3 million. The proposed budget would have required real property owners to pay $1.08, the same as last year when the budget was $835.5 million. The entire budget as proposed by County Administrator Kirby Bowers required a tax rate of $1.12 to fund general government services and the school district.
"I’ll take my tax reduction any way I can," said Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling).
The $1.05 tax rate is the maximum the board could set for this year to meet the April 1 deadline. In early March, the board voted against using $.06 of the supervisors' proposed $1.08 tax rate toward a countywide tax district for fire and rescue services. The $.06 levy was expected to raise $23.02 million for the services, which now will be funded through the general fund.
The county advertised the tax rate’s maximum at $1.12, including $1.05 for the budget and $.07 for the tax district with leeway of one cent, expecting the board to approve the tax district. After the vote was taken, the county did not have enough time to re-advertise a new rate and hold a public hearing by the April 1 deadline to approve the budget, tax rate and Capital Improvements Program (CIP) for fiscal years 2003-08.
THE BOARD voted 5-4 against the tax rate after passing the entire budget by a margin of one vote. Supervisors Delgaudio, Chuck Harris (D-Broad Run), Mark Herring (D-Leesburg), Hiatt and Chairman Scott York (R-At Large) did not support the tax rate, but Harris joined the rest of the board to support the budget. The board made an adjustment to the budget to provide $62,000 for the At-Risk Youth and Family Services program not approved in the March work sessions.
Delgaudio told the board he would not support the budget as it stood. "I have heard the cries of the disaffected of the people who cannot afford the excessiveness of this plan," he said.
In another vote, the board approved an adjusted CIP 6-3 with Delgaudio, Herring and Hiatt voting against. The CIP was cut from the $959.6 million needed to fund 33 county projects costing $521.01 million and 16 school projects at $438.74 million. The new amount was not available by press time.
"We ought to put off some of the capital projects," Herring said. "We’re mortgaging the future more than we should."
The board removed a project from the CIP to build a new facility for the Smithsonian Naturalist Center, a cost savings of $8.1 million, and delayed the Broadlands Recreation Center two years from a construction date of fiscal year 2004, saving $7.3 million. A proposed project to expand the school bus parking lot from the Leesburg facility to lots in eastern and western Loudoun was pulled from the CIP and sent to the Finance and Government Services Committee for further review.
AFTER THE BUDGET and CIP were approved, the board returned to the question of the property tax rate, which at $1.05 will generate $347.57 million toward funding the budget. The school district will receive $.72 of the $1.05 tax rate, while the county’s share will be $.32, with another $.01 going toward the Comprehensive Services Act Fund.
"I will oppose this rate," Hiatt said. "I still think it’s too high. … The problem is not the economy. The problem is we have too many people up here wasting money. We don’t have to fund the extra frills."
The rate of growth and a decrease in state funding were concerns for Chairman Scott York (R-At Large), who said he wanted to drop the tax rate to $1.03-04. "I do believe we could have gone a little bit lower on some of this stuff," he said.
York said the county approved 40,000 residential units from 1989-95 and built 24 schools since 1995. "Growth does cost," he said.
The county faces $48 million in debt service for capital school projects this year and another $20 million in 2003. The county's debt service in 1994 was $6.4 million and nearly doubled to $11 million in 1998 for the school projects.
"Here we are in 2002. It's hitting us big time," Bowers said. "That's an exponential increase in debt service, so you can look at the population trends because you have to provide the capital facilities up front to provide for an increasing number of students."
Harris said he wanted the tax rate to stay at $1.08 and for the county to use the extra three cents toward debt service.
"The level of services and kind of community we want in terms of quality education and a safe community is the cost," said Supervisor Chuck Harris (D-Broad Run), adding that half of the county’s enhancements were for public safety and health. "These are the kind of services communities expect from local government."
The board voted 6-3 on the second vote in favor of the tax rate. This time round, the contenders were Delgaudio, Hiatt and York.
"In the end, you face the taxpayers," Hiatt said. "In the end, you face the voters."
The first of two tax collections will take place on June 5.