The Board of Supervisors continued its work on the budget this week, cutting enhancements in its attempts to lower the tax rate to ease the tax burden of Loudoun County residents.
At the Wednesday, March 15, budget work session, the board voted 7-2 in a straw vote to cut an additional $66.6 million in requested enhancements, an action that took 5 cents off of the tax rate.
The dramatic cut comes over a week after County Administrator Kirby Bowers identified more than $20 million in additional revenue, lowering the tax rate to 95 cents.
"The 92 cent cut ended a lot of unneeded debate," Supervisor Bruce E. Tulloch (R-Potomac) said. "It's going to take away a lot of this 'slash and burn' type of budgeting."
The straw vote took more than $31 million from the school system, more than half of the budget increase it was seeking. The county government also took an almost $12.5 million loss, keeping only requests from the fire department, the juvenile court service and the Circuit Court clerk. The cut enhancements included staffing increases for the Sheriff's Office.
"The School Board is going to have to look at things like charter schools and two-story structures as well as other savings," Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) said. "We've got to respond to the people of this county who are overburdened."
Lowering the tax rate to less than 90 cents has become a chief concern of board members following a dramatic increase in real property assessments. In order to equalize taxes with 2005, the tax rate would have to drop to 81 cents, but while that would equalize the county as a whole, some districts would still see a sharp rise in their tax bills.
"Dulles and Broad Run [districts] are seeing the largest rise in taxes," Supervisor Lori Waters (R-Broad Run) said. "While an 81 cent tax rate might equalize the county as a whole, Broad Run would have to see a tax rate of 77 cents to equalize."
While the straw vote could still be reversed, some board members feel that they are finally responding to what the citizens of the county want.
"The straw vote meant that there is a serious sentiment to respond to the thousands of citizens who have spoken to us through phone calls and e-mails," Delgaudio said. "I am hoping that this cooperation will show people we are willing to work together for them."
Votes made during work sessions are only straw votes and can be reversed and amended later on, something Supervisor Stephen J. Snow (R-Dulles) said is certain to happen at some level.
"What's going on is people are putting into a column things they believe could be cut or need scrutiny," he said. "We'll probably keep some of them and add others. The school cuts won't necessarily be $31 million, but it will be something."
Snow considers the process a good one, one that gives citizens the chance to speak about issues that concern them.
"The process makes the staffs put in a lot of quality work," he said. "Allows them to figure out if they really need something and, if they do, make a presentation to fight for it."
For some board members, the increasing taxes in the county are too much of a concern to consider many budget increase requests.
"We are working to get more pennies of the tax rate," Waters said. "There have been a lot of worthy requests, but we just can't afford them. We have to make due with what we have."