The Board of Supervisors has lowered the real estate tax rate from $1.11 to $1.1075 per $100 in assessed value for Fiscal Year 2005.
It cut $98.5 million from the original general county government and school system budgets of about $1.1 billion, which would have amounted to a tax rate of $1.19.
The board set the lower tax rate Tuesday, but approved the budget for "informative and fiscal planning purposes only." The Supervisors held final approval pending adoption of the State budget.
Vice-Chairman Bruce Tulloch (R-Potomac) said the board will have to revisit the figures if legislators declare a budget impasse or make significant reductions in the aid to county schools. "If they went the wrong way… I reserve the right to shift more money to the schools," he said.
Tulloch said he would support using county funds to help the schools. "It boils down to the state doing its job and giving us a budget to deal with," he added.
Supervisor Jim Burton (I-Blue Ridge) took exception to Tulloch's plan. "The county side has been bled dry," he said.
Budget Officer Ben Mays said there are not enough contingency funds to cover the loss in case of a budget impasse.
Supervisors set the tax rate and approved the budget 6-3. Lori Waters (R-Broad Run), Mick Staton (R-Sugarland) and Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) favored deeper cuts.
Waters admonished the prior board for increasing the budget by 85 percent in four years. "Santa does not grant every wish and neither should we," she said.
Staton said the board should have supported a lower tax rate. "There is a difference between needs and wants, demand for a service and a need for a service," he said. "This budget does not provide tax relief to county citizens."
Delgaudio said some of his proposed reductions have been characterized as "harebrained, extremist and cruel." Some of his ideas, however, received board support, he said. "I don't think the budget we have has taken out enough."
Stephen Snow (R-Dulles) referred to Delgaudio's first proposal to set a tax rate at 99 cents and later at $1.02. "Think of the absurdity of that. Think of the damage and harm to our children … to our citizens," Snow said. "Ninety-nine cents or $1.02 is not a choice."
Snow went on to characterize that type of politics as "back bench legislators" with no solutions.
Delgaudio took offense and said it was a lie to say he had no solutions. Chairman Scott York (I-Sterling) responded that Mr. Snow had not used Delgaudio's name.
Tulloch added, "Your name is not 99 cents. You represent 99 cents. You are out of order."
The Supervisors voted to create a Loudoun Legacy Fund for individuals, businesses, trusts, estates or any entity to donate money to any county department, the school system or a capital project.
They decided to increase their own budget by $50,000. The money will be used to increase their aides' work from 30 hours up to 37 ½ hours per week. The funding also will cover benefits and provide a pay range comparable to a Specialist II in the county system. The maximum pay would be $28.43 per hour.
Waters opposed the motion. "Shame. Shame. Shame," she said. "We would be enhancing our own budgets. I would be very disappointed in my colleagues if this goes through."
Jim Clem (R-Leesburg) said the board needs to lead by example. "I have one of the finest aides of anyone," he said. "I'm not voting against this to hurt her."
Tulloch favored the increase. "My aide is working morning, noon and night," he said. "Myself, I get 200 e-mails a night."
Kurtz said her aide refuses to work full-time. Clem said his aide is working 50 hours a week. He said his aide is "the last voice I hear before I go to bed and the first voice I hear in the morning. But we are here to serve the public."
Snow said the workload demands full-time attention. In time, the county will need full-time supervisors, he predicted. "We're a billion dollar company now. We're in the big leagues."
Delgaudio said he would eliminate the aide position if he could. York said it's interesting that Delgaudio's aide, when first hired, was paid more than any other aide.
Burton said the aides are working more than full time and there would be ramifications if they were not paid for their time.
Prior to the budget vote, Rep. Mick Staton, R-Sugarland, asked the county staff to find $2.5 million in additional reductions and $5.5 million in more revenues. The staff provided $159,000 in cuts and no revenues.
"I was hoping for a little bit more," Staton said. "I asked you to come back with $5.5 million and basically you said, 'No.'"
County Administrator Kirby Bowers said the staff could not find it.
Staton said he realizes the staff is not comfortable with his request. "I have to tell you. This is a bone I've got in my mouth and I won't let it go for the next four years," he said.
In an interview, Staton explained that he believes the revenue estimates need to be more in line with what the county actually expects to receive. Every year, the county ends up with a surplus of $30 million to $50 million, he said. "The problem with that is they tell us not to worry, because the money is used to offset the following year's tax rate."
He said he opposes the practice because when the county budgets to have a certain surplus every year, it isn't really achieving a tax rate saving.
"It is keeping the tax rate artificially high rather than artificially low," Staton said.