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Public Comment on Proposed Budget

Town Council opens forum for public comments and suggestions on proposed FY 2006 budget.

Herndon residents had their first opportunity to speak to the town manager’s proposed fiscal year 2006-07 budget before the Town Council at a public hearing April 12.

Although the public hearing was the first time Stephen Owen, town manager, officially presented the budget, copies had been mailed to residents the first week of April.

In the approximately $37 million proposal the main items of public discussion dealt with the proposed 1-cent real estate tax reduction and some areas of increase for personnel costs, the hire of eight employees, operations, management, debt service and minor capital improvements.

Representing most residents' concerns, Bob Miller, a Herndon resident of 50 years, said he would like to see the real estate tax rate reduced by more than a penny.

Because assessment values increased approximately 26 percent in the Herndon area, Miller said if the town really wanted to offer some relief, it would drop the tax rate by more than 1 cent.

Currently residents pay 28 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Under Owen’s proposal, resident’s would pay 27 cents per $100 of assessed value, a reduction Owen said he included because of increases in Fairfax County's real estate assessments.

MILLER SAID IN THE LONG run, he did not believe a 1-cent reduction would be noticeable to most residents.

Betty Valley, another long-time Herndon resident, said if assessment values continue to rise and proposed budgets do not reflect tax relief for Herndon residents, low-income and fixed-income neighbors will be forced to move away.

"I think we need to look into cutting some of our annual clean ups and our regular recycling to twice a month," said Valley about ways to save money. "In addition, the increase in eight new employees is not a benefit for town residents."

In the budget, Owen proposed 267 staff positions, some of the new hires are already counted as employees.

Other residents questioned council's proposed spending, accusing members of using the Capitol Improvement Plan (CIP) as a personal wish list for "pet projects."

Ten-year resident Charlie Waddell asked if Owen and his staff had taken into consideration the future population of the town when creating the budget.

"Financially, do we know how the population increase will effect the town's service requests?" he asked, saying he did agree with most of the proposed spending.

Connie Hutchinson, president Herndon Visitor's Center, came before council to thank them for allocating a proposed $30,000 to the center.

"We're not promoting the visitor's center," she said clarifying the reason for the financial request. "We're promoting the town."

In the past year Hutchinson said the center was able to accomplish many things including the task of compiling menus and phone numbers from local restaurants to be placed in the lobby of every hotel in town.

In addition she said they recently completed a 30-second public service announcement for Cox Communications to run as a promotional tool for the town.

Although council members did not speak on the proposed budget — saving their energy for the scheduled April 19 work session — some council members expressed their views in other ways.

Council member Dennis Husch sent an e-mail to constituents after briefly reviewing the 400-plus page document.

"Given the crushing increase in Fairfax County real estate tax assessments — 26 percent was the average — some serious reduction in planned spending must take place," he said in the e-mail. "I concur with Councilman Steve Mitchell that the real estate tax rate must be decreased by at least 5 cents to 23 cents per $100 assessed value."

Husch went on to say, unlike Mitchell who would like to see cigarette, meals and occupancy taxes increased, he thought unnecessary spending could be reduced instead.

"As usual some special interest groups in the Town will not like the proposed reductions," he said. "I believe that it is time to be sympathetic to the majority hit with the huge tax increases."

Council was scheduled to discuss the proposed budget at its April 19 work session and will hold another public hearing April 26, at 7:30 p.m., in council chambers to hear more residents comments before approving the budget.