Not unlike the last stand of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Herndon Town Councilmen Dennis Husch and William “Bill” Tirrell, Sr. were shot down during the council public hearing on Tuesday evening, April 23.
Husch motioned to reduce the town’s real estate tax rate from $.32 per $100 of assessed real estate value down to $.27. That motion, seconded by Tirrell, fell by a five to two vote.
Since the “attempt to put $1.325 million back in the pockets of the people who earned it failed,” said Husch, he moved for a four cent reduction, also seconded by Tirrell, only to see that motion fail five to two. That would have returned roughly $988,000 to the taxpayers in town. The three-cent motion proposed by Husch and seconded by Tirrell also failed by the same five to two margin in an effort by the minority to return about $741,000 to the taxpayers.
Ultimately the council agreed on a two-cent reduction in the real estate tax rate from $.32 to $.30, saving $494,000, out of a proposed budget of $37,061,953, but not until members of the public had a chance to let the council know what was on their minds.
WHILE NOT ASKING for any specific cuts in the town budget, Third Street resident Jasbinder Singh asked the council “why should the budget go up higher than the rate of inflation? As a resident of the town I pay extra taxes on my property and on my business. What level of services do I get for those taxes?” he asked.
Opposing any tax reduction, Alabama Drive resident Richard “Rick” Schneider said, “I’m spoiled and I like it. The new police station is needed. I want to keep good staff in town. Yes, our taxes are too high, but a two cent reduction – $40 – is no big deal.”
But lifelong Herndon resident Mary Burger of Wood Street asked, “Who runs our town, staff or you?” She urged the council to take the lead in making budget cuts and not leaving it up to staff.
“The assessment on my house is up $36,000 this year and I haven’t done a damn thing to it — well maybe a fence,” said Burger. “The quality of life is no better — this is still a beautiful town. You should require the police chief to live in town the way it used to be. No town vehicle should be used to transport employees to and from home — reduce gas bills, mileage and repair bills,” she said, also calling for a cap of 3 percent on employee raises.
“Tear down the old police station and build a new one,” said Burger. “Additional space is needed at the Community Center. I support a two-story parking garage and I continue to support HCTV,” she said. “I do not support money for a dog park, a management analyst or a police lieutenant. The $600,000 for the development of Runnymede Park and the $1.2 million for the arts center should be put on hold and then bonded. That money could go for a two-story parking garage. There should be a two-year moratorium on townhouses and apartments until the roads can support them. And that’s how I feel,” said Burger.
THE FIRST DEBATE by council regarded the reduction of the real estate tax rate that eventually settled at a two-cent reduction and supported by a six to one margin, with Councilman John De Noyer casting the lone nay vote.
“People want the value of their homes to appreciate, but not want to pay the taxes on it,” he said. “With a five cent reduction, we would totally have to revisit the CIP [Capital Improvements Program]. There would be an impact on the arts center and the community center,” said De Noyer supporting only a one-cent reduction.
“Living on more valuable property doesn’t mean anything until you sell — and I ain’t leaving,” said Husch, noting that with a 16 to 18 percent increase in assessments in town the bulk of the tax burden fell on the homeowners.
“Councilman Husch is correct,” said Councilman Michael O’ Reilly. “Commercial remained flat — the overall assessment in town was 10.2 percent. That’s less that $200,000 for the town due to the raise in business assessments,” he said. “I enjoy the quality of life in town. We get our money’s worth,” said O’ Reilly, supporting the two cent decrease.
“I won’t support five cents,” said Mayor Carol Bruce. "Two cents is doable without a reduction in services. To suggest that, people would be lined up out the door,” she said.
The second debate centered upon the actual cuts to be made, which passed by a six to one margin, with Husch casting the lone nay vote. “The devil is in the details,” said Husch, proposing several reductions totaling roughly $500,000 that died in motion for lack of a second.
The bulk of the cuts made to get to the $494,000, or two cent reduction, involved reducing town contributions to staff benefits, a revenue adjustment based upon an increase in the receipt of BPOL license fees and an adjustment to the undesignated fund balance, which some refer to as a rainy-day fund.