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Votes

City Council Debates Tax Rates

Council sets an advertised rate of the real estate tax and discusses tax increases.

For the first time since last July, Fairfax City Mayor Rob Lederer cast a deciding vote to break a tie. The City Council had been discussing what real estate tax rate the city should advertise for its budget. Council members disagreed on how much "wiggle room" they could maneuver if the tax rate was set at 96 cents per $100 assessed value, versus 98 cents.

"I think you have to have adequate savings, adequate rainy day fund," said council member Joan Cross, who had voted to advertise a 98 cent tax rate with council members Gary Rasmussen and Patrice Winter.

Council members Jeff Greenfield, Gail Lyon and Scott Silverthorne disagreed, with Lederer casting the vote in favor of setting an advertised tax rate of 96 cents.

"The reality is, we can do this," Lederer said.

The final decision Tuesday evening was to advertise the real estate tax rate at 96 cents per $100 assessed value. By advertising this rate, the council cannot consider a tax rate higher than 96 cents. They can consider tax rates lower than 96 cents.

The advertised rate is not the final rate. The final rate will be decided on April 8, the day the City Council adopts the budget for the 2003-2004 fiscal year.

In addition to setting an advertised tax rate, council members also expressed their opinions on several possible tax increases during the council's work session. The tax increases would help pay for an additional $5,438,769 in city expenditures from fiscal years 2003 to 2004. The additional expenditures include $2 million for schools, $1.8 million for debt service and the additions and construction for City Hall and a new police station and $540,333 for salaries and fringe benefits.

Citizens will be able to voice their opinions on the possible increases at a public hearing during the next City Council meeting on March 25, as well as during budget outreach meetings on March 24 and 31.

If any tax increases are adopted, the new rates would take effect July 1, 2003. The tax increases include:

*Raising the cigarette tax from 30 cents to 50 cents. Current revenue stands at $566,000, with projected revenue from a 50-cent tax being $977,300.

*Raising the meals tax from 2 percent to 4 percent. Current revenue is at $1.9 million, and additional $1.9 million would be raised if the tax rate went up to 4 percent (roughly $900,000 per cent raise.)

*Creating a new tax for cellular phones. Citizens would be charged 10 percent of the first $30 of their cell phone bill, or $3 maximum per month.

*Raising parking violations fines to align them with surrounding jurisdictions.

COUNCIL MEMBERS had no issues with the cigarette tax increase and a cell phone tax, although some anticipated debate on the meals tax increase. The council decision to advertise a real estate tax rate of 96 cents decreased the possibility of having half of the meals tax increase, roughly $900,000, go towards reserve for debt service. Rasmussen said he would support a meals tax, as non-residents contribute to the fund.

"If we find ways to reduce the budget ... I'd rather take money out of the real estate taxes and keep these taxes," Rasmussen said.

Council members Cross, Greenfield and Silverthorne preferred a minimal increase or no increase, but all three agreed that they hesitated to make a final decision until they've worked out all other parts of the budget.

"It's hard to say that I could come up with $1.5 million in cuts," Silverthorne said, referring to what the city might do if the meals tax increase didn't pass.

If these tax increases are adopted, patrons of city businesses will have to adjust. Jason Kim, owner of Courthouse Market off of Chain Bridge Road near the county line, thinks the tax increase on cigarettes would have minimal impact on his business.

"It's been already high. This is small city, a small government," said Kim of the proposed increase. If people want their cigarettes, they'll buy them, regardless of cost. "This is a convenience store, so this is up to you."

THE CITY COUNCIL also voted on the following items:

*The council unanimously approved the rezoning of 0.46 acres of land from R-2 (residential) to C-2(p) (retail commercial with proffers), at the request of Main Street Center, 9960 and 9964 Main St. The owner, Len Adler, agreed to the following proffers: (1) no permanent structure other than screening fences will be constructed on the property; (2) the property will be used for employee parking, vehicle turnaround and accessory uses; (3) the owner will install an eight-foot tall board-on-board privacy fence along the west boundary of the property where it abuts lots 104 and 105 in the Fairview subdivision; (4) the owner will remove the existing wire fence on the north and east sides of the property and will install supplemental low maintenance plantings such as barberry to fill in gaps in existing vegetation and ensure a continued vegetative screen; (5) the owner will install "Unauthorized Vehicles Will Be Towed" signage on the property; (6) the owner will ensure that trash and debris will be properly and frequently removed; and (7) the owner will ensure the property will be regularly monitored and the police will be notified of unauthorized use.

Council member Lyon asked the owner to consider low lighting, for the safety of those in surrounding housing subdivisions. Adler said he would look into finding lights that could not be vandalized, as graffiti artists had previously come to his property to tag. The property is a lot behind Yesterday's Rose.

*The council approved unanimously the request of Cary Schwab to install two ground-mounted signs at 11050 Main St. One sign will be for Fairfax Honda and the other sign will be for Fairfax Volvo/Volkswagon. The car dealership will remove existing pylar signs.