Board Approves $1.2 Billion Budget

Board Approves $1.2 Billion Budget

Supervisors ask School Board to cut another $7 million from operating budget.

The Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to approve the $1.2 billion fiscal year 2006 county budget.

The budget comes with a real property tax rate of $1.04 per $100 assessed value.

The tax rate represents a drop from last year's $1.1075 rate.

"I think it was a really good action," said county treasurer Roger Zurn. "I was hoping that they would be able to reduce some of the effects of the assessment increase, and to a large extent, they were able to do that."

Real property taxes jumped an average of $464 this year.

The finalized budget came after months of work that started with a review of all county programs last fall. While supervisors did not find many places to cut county programs, the work still felt justified, said Supervisor Lori Waters (R-Broad Run).

"It may be only a few thousand dollars involved, but those things add up," she said.

WATERS HAD BEEN one of the most vocal critics of the School Board's operating budget. The operating and capital budgets for schools typically takes the lion's share of the county budget.

About 74.3 percent of revenues from local taxes will go to school operating expenses, capital projects and debt service.

The Board of Supervisors has asked that the School Board cut a further $7 million from its operating budget, bringing the budget to $529 million. The $7 million cut represents 1 cent on the tax rate.

The total capital improvements program for fiscal years 2006-2010 was also approved Tuesday at $895 million.

The cost to construct schools had been a target of Waters' during budget work sessions. She requested that the School Board cut $5 million from the construction costs of two future high schools — a cut that School Board members said they could not make.

The School Board has a hard time even gathering bids on construction projects because contractors are doing so much business, said School Board member Robert DuPree (Dulles).

"We're always trying to save," DuPree said. "Right now ... it's a contractor's environment."

Waters failed in her attempt to get the construction costs lowered.

DuPree and School Board Chairman John Andrews were disappointed that the board requested they cut an additional $7 million from the operating budget.

"Now we'll sit down ... and make some hard choices," DuPree said.

While the Board of Supervisors allots money to the School Board, it cannot dictate where the money goes. The School Board will decide which programs will feel the effect of the cut.

THE BUDGET passed in a 6-2-1 vote with supervisors Jim Burton (I-Blue Ridge) and Scott York (I-At Large) voting against and Supervisor Sally Kurtz (D-Catoctin) abstaining.

Burton argued that the $1.04 real property tax rate was an "arbitrary" number selected before the budget process began.

"This is not the way to conduct a budget exercise," Burton said. "This is the other end of zero-based budgeting — this is fantasy-based budgeting."

Republican supervisors disputed Burton's allegation.

"I could have sat up here and supported a higher tax rate," said Vice Chairman Bruce Tulloch (R-Potomac). "It just wasn't the right thing to do for the citizens of Loudoun County. The number 1.04 was not arbitrary."

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