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Town Unveils Budget Decrease

Recommended budget shows "minimal" increases to overall homeowners' taxes.

The Town of Herndon’s budget team released its proposed fiscal year 2008 budget last week, showing a decrease in overall spending from the previous year, "minimal" total tax increases and a trimmed capital improvement program, reflecting the desires of a new Town Council that has espoused fiscal conservatism as its main goal.

"This year’s budget is certainly a status quo budget … [that] looks to maintain the 24 cent tax rate," said acting town manager Art Anselene, in a meeting with reporters Monday. "We’ve personally controlled a lot of our operational and personnel costs, and certainly we have a very constrained capital improvement program, as per the desires of the council."

The proposed budget for fiscal year 2008 totals just over $42 million in overall expenditures, a decrease of 1.1 percent over the amended budget for fiscal year 2007, according to the proposal. Its largest rollbacks from the previous year's adopted budget come in a capital improvement plan less than half the size of last year's adopted budget, lesser bond debt service and a major scaling back of interfund transfers.

If passed as it stands, this will be the first budget in at least 10 years that shows a decrease in total expenditures than the previous year’s adopted budget, according to town records.

The budget for fiscal year 2008 encompasses the period from July 1, 2007 to June 30, 2008.

The budget maintains the real estate tax at 24 cents per $100 of assessed property value, as set by Fairfax County real estate assessments. The proposed budget does not recommend an increase to the meals or transient occupancy [hotels] tax, which had been proposed in last year's budget before being removed after opposition from Herndon’s restaurant and hotel owners.

THE STATIC TAX rate for real estate does not mean that residents and business owners can expect to pay less to the town in total real estate taxes this year, as both residential and commercial units have increased in assessed value from the previous year. The average residential unit in Herndon has increased by 2.6 percent in that time, while the average commercial property assessment has ballooned 17.8 percent during the last year, according to figures presented to the media by the Town of Herndon.

As a result of the increases, as well as with the new construction that has occurred in town over the course of the last year, the Town of Herndon, under the proposed tax rate, will collect 8.7 percent more in general taxes from the previous year.

But for the average Herndon homeowner, these tax increases will mean only a minimum increase of about $30 from last year’s total, leaving the average resident with a bill of about $975, according to town figures.

A "very minor" increase to water and sewer rates will be incurred by residents, according to Anselene.

The increases to the commercial real estate assessment have also brought the town closer to an "equilibrium" between the residential and commercial share of the tax burden, according to Mary Tuohy, finance director for the Town of Herndon. Residential real estate will count for approximately 54 percent of the total tax collection in 2008, down from approximately 58 percent in fiscal year 2007, according to town and county data.

WHILE HERNDON’S budget decreased in total expenditures, there were some increases to recurring funds listed in the proposed budget, mostly seen in staff salaries, which increased about 3.2 percent from the previous year, according to town staff.

The increases covered basic cost of living adjustments as well as performance review raises for returning salary, according to Linda Simmons, director of Human Resources for the Town of Herndon.

In addition, a total of two new paid positions are proposed for the town’s staff which include replacing two part-time employees with a full-time position as well as adding two new public works employee positions.

There are no proposed increases to staff in the fiscal year 2008 budget to increases in overcrowding investigation staff or police officers for the proposed federal immigration enforcement training that will likely take place late this spring, according to Simmons.

THE TOWN STAFF’S proposed capital improvement program (CIP), a six-year plan for new town construction, maintenance projects and concrete resources, sits at a little over $2 million.

The largest amount of CIP funds proposed for Herndon in fiscal year 2008 deal with road maintenance, including "major road repaving" of parts of Herndon Parkway and Elden Street, as well as the completion of payments for work done on South Elden Street near Worldgate Center in the previous year. The town has applied for state Department of Transportation grants that may offset some of those expenditures, according to staff.

Other money is proposed to be slated for new information technology for the town, which include increased web access to town services, purchase of new public works vehicles and the addition of a $100,000 "sally port" for safe transfer of suspects from vehicles to the Herndon Police Department.

The construction of a skateboard facility in town, a major focus of several young residents’ efforts during last year’s budget screening process, has been proposed for fiscal year 2008. Expected to cost around $150,000, the town’s skateboard facility will be covered by development proffers — money paid to the town with the entrance of new developments — is recommended to cover that cost, Anselene said.

The Planning Commission will also present a recommended capital improvement program to the Town Council for consideration.

The capital improvement plan will be discussed by town officials over the course of the next two months. Resident and business owner participation is encouraged.