This year Town of Vienna residents will be taxed 28.5 cents per every 100 dollars of assessed property value. This is a one-and-a-half cent cut over last year's tax rate of 30 cents.
But the new rate will still leave many residents with higher tax bills, due to an 18 percent overall rise in Vienna assessments. Town officials say the extra tax revenue will make up for drops in federal and state funding to the town.
The Vienna Town Council voted on the 28.5 cent tax rate at its Monday evening meeting. Not all the council members supported the rate, though. Robert McCormick, who will be leaving the council at the end of this month, voted against both the tax rate and the accompanying town budget.
"I will be voting against both," said McCormick, just before the vote was taken, "Not because I think it is a bad budget, but because I think we should have made a donation to the Vienna Volunteer Fire Department."
FOR THE PAST FEW MONTHS McCormick has been advocating a $200,000 donation to the fire department, to be included in the budget. Instead, the fire department will be receiving $10,000 from the town. A $200,000 donation would have taken a one cent increase in the tax rate, pushing it up to 29.5 cents.
Other council members have supported a $100,000 donation, which would require a 29 cent tax rate. But two weeks ago, when the council voted whether or not to alter the tax rate, only two council members — McCormick and Mayor Jane Seeman — voted for a change, in order to accommodate the Fire Department donation.
The Vienna Volunteer Fire Department generates funding entirely from grants and donations, including a weekly bingo game. Volunteers from the station say the building needs $2.5 million in renovations, to update the interior of the building. The station is seeking a $1.5 million bond from Fairfax County to help fund the renovation.
SEEMAN VOTED for the 28.5 cent tax rate, but as she did so she mentioned some reservations.
"I'm 95 percent pleased with the budget," Seeman said. "There are still things I'm not pleased with."
She said she would have liked the council to discuss the Fire Department funding further.
"That donation is something [the Vienna Volunteer Fire Department] has been talking about for at least a year," Seeman said. "I felt we didn't address their problem seriously."
Seeman would have also liked the council to have further discussions on a special trash pick-up program. The original draft budget, drawn up by town manager John Schoeberlein, included three extra staff positions to pick up large or unusual trash items such as furniture or household appliances. The town currently takes an average of 10 days to remove such items, and some residents have complained. The three staff members, at a cost of just over $100,000, would have reduced lag time on the pick ups. But those three staff positions were removed in order to cut the tax rate by one half of one cent.
"We asked the public works director to look at other alternatives to completely cutting the special pick up division," Seeman said. "I guess we didn't like those alternatives. But I felt like one more discussion would have cleared it up."
The mayor said she has already started making a list of items she would like included in next year's budget.