County OKs $718 Million Budget

County OKs $718 Million Budget

Board cuts tax rates, but most tax payments will still increase.

After two and a half months, after hearings, after meetings and after worksessions, County Board members approved a $718.5 million county budget for fiscal year 2005, which takes effect on July 1.

In a unanimous vote at their April 24 meeting, the County Board approved a budget that included a two-cent cut in the property tax rate, from 97.8 cents to 95.8 cents per $100 of a home’s assessed value. It also added more than $6 million in expenditures to the budget proposed by County Manager Ron Carlee.

That represents almost a $53 million increase, or 7.9 percent, from last year’s budget. Even with the tax increase approved by board members, assessment increases mean that average homeowners in Arlington will see their tax bills rise from $3,090 last year to $3,541 this year — a 15 percent increase.

Board interest in cutting the tax rate was hamstrung by budget uncertainty in the General Assembly, said Board Chair Barbara Favola. Passage of real tax reform could bring lower property taxes, she said. “If the state finds new ways of funding government, the board is committed to lowering the tax rate.”

That didn’t mean complaints of higher taxes fell on deaf ears, she said. “We do understand that real estate assessments have gone up for the fourth straight year in a row. We tried to be sensitive to homeowners’ needs.”

<b>NOT SENSITIVE ENOUGH,</b> said Tim Wise, president of the Arlington County Taxpayers Association, a local anti-tax organization. The county budget rose more than twice the rate that the consumer price index increased, he said. “After the County Board stuck it to the taxpayer, what can I say?”

But the adopted budget is “a hold-the-line budget,” said Board member Chris Zimmerman. “It doesn’t add anything big, but it also doesn’t cut back on anything we’re already doing.”

That’s fine in some years, said Randy Swart, but it won’t work every year. As a member of the Civic Federation’s revenues and expenditures review committee, Swart takes a close look at Carlee’s budget proposal every year, and as a taxpayer, he was satisfied with what the Board passed.

But he was disappointed that Carlee’s proposal didn’t prioritize existing county programs, to let the board and taxpayers what ranked the lowest among county planners.

“You always have to go through and pare out things to keep it from getting bloated,” said Swart. “There’s a real danger if you don’t occasionally look at what your lowest priorities are.”

<b>BUDGETS ARE “ALWAYS,</b> obviously, a matter of compromise and choices,” said Zimmerman. “People will always disagree with the choices made.”

This year, Favola said, those choices included allocating more money for an affordable housing home ownership program, for additions to the county’s transportation infrastructure and to keep the county government a competitive employer.

Unfortunately, Wise said, those choices weren’t made in an open debate. Board members had too many discussions in worksession, and not enough in public hearings or meetings.

“That kind of decision-making process is supposed to be transparent to the citizens,” said Wise. “After all, we pay the freight.”

But the citizens, by and large, will be satisfied with this budget, said Swart. “There wasn’t a whole lot of opposition in the community to what the county is doing,” he said. “So they didn’t make any radical cuts.”

<b>Area Fees & Taxes</b>

<table border=1 cellpadding=2 cellspacing=0><tr><td></td><td><b>Arlington</b></td><td><b>Alexandria</b></td><td><b>Fairfax City</b></td><td><b>Fairfax County</b></td><td><b>Falls Church</b></td><td><b>Loudoun</b></td><td><b>Prince William</b></td></tr><tr><b>Home Prices and Tax Rates</b></tr><tr><td><b>Average Assessment</b></td><td>$369,600</td><td>$361,040</td><td>$332,600</td><td>$357,506</td><td>$460,109</td><td>$329,120</td><td>$261,200</td></tr><tr><td><b>Estimated FY 2005 Tax Rate*</b></td><td>$0.958</td><td>$1.005</td><td>$0.90</td><td>$1.13</td><td>$1.13</td><td>$1.1075</td><td>$1.1468</td></tr><tr><td><b>Taxes and Fees</b></td></tr><tr><td><b>Real Estate</b></td><td>$3,541</td><td>$3,628</td><td>$2,993</td><td>$4,040</td><td>$5,199</td><td>$3,645</td><td>$2,995</td></tr><tr><td><b>Personal Property**</b></td><td>613</td><td>662</td><td>459</td><td>637</td><td>585</td><td>516</td></tr><tr><td><b>Residential Consumer Utility?</b></td><td>—</td><td>130</td><td>144</td><td>265</td><td>240</td><td>97</td><td>144</td></tr><tr><td><b>Water/Sewer</b></td><td>496</td><td>604</td><td>480</td><td>390</td><td>708</td><td>481</td><td>548</td></tr><tr><td><b>Solid Waste/Recycling</b></td><td>246</td><td>205</td><td>—</td><td>240</td><td>—</td><td>300</td><td>260</td></tr><tr><td><b>Annual Decal Fee</b></td><td>24</td><td>25</td><td>25</td><td>25</td><td>25</td><td>25</td><td>24</td></tr><tr><td><b>Total</b></td><td><b>$4,920</b></td><td><b>$5,254</b></td><td><b>$4,101</b></td><td><b>$5,597</b></td><td><b>$6,929</b></td><td><b>$5,133</b></td><td><b>$4,487</b></td></tr></table>

<i>*Per $100 of a home’s assessed value. Arlington, Fairfax City, Loudoun and Prince William have adopted their 2005 tax rates.

**Assumes two cars per houshold and same average vehicle value. Does not reflect state rebates.

?Based on the ceiling tax rate.</i>