After almost a full day of debating and disagreements, the Board of Supervisors adopted the county's fiscal year 2008 budget and set the tax rate at 96 cents. The board split 5-4 on the vote, with Supervisors Mick Staton (R-Sugarland Run), Lori Waters (R-Broad Run), Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) and Jim Clem (R-Leesburg) opposed.
The 96-cent tax rate was a 1.5 cent drop from the tax rate proposed by County Administrator Kirby Bowers, but a 7 cent increase over last year's 89 cent tax rate. In February, Bowers proposed a $1.38 billion budget with an advertised real property tax rate of 97.5 cents per $100 of assessed value.
The approved 96 cent tax rate represents an increase of approximately 1 percent in the average residential tax bill, or around $50. With residential home assessments down 7 percent this year, some supervisors felt it was irresponsible of the board to continue to raise taxes for residents.
"In the past we have excused tax increases by saying their homes are worth more," Staton said. "This year we have the opposite situation. Some people's homes are worth less, much less. I don't think that is fair."
Supervisors who supported the approved budget, however, said that the service needs of the county and residents cost money and had to be paid for.
"While I would like to have a tax rate of 60 cents, we aren't ever going to get there," Chairman Scott K. York (I-At large) said. "I just don't think we will ever be able to get there responsibly. We don't have a tooth fairy; we have to pay for it."
OF THE APPROXIMATELY $14 million the Supervisors cut from the budget, $2.8 million came from adjustments to the public schools' proposed budget. The board voted to cut an emergency management specialist from the Department of Fire and Rescue and an emergency communications officer from the Sheriff's Office. Supervisors also voted to cut employees and equipment requested by the Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Services in half.
The adopted 2008 county budget means a cut of approximately $23.8 million to the schools proposed $887.5 million. The reductions came from the $2.8 million returned to the county, $16 million recommended by Bowers and an additional $3 million added by the Supervisors Tuesday.
"This is a very difficult motion for myself and certainly made in the spirit of compromise," Supervisor Sally Kurtz (D-Catoctin) said. "This is a difficult budget year and I guess at times you have to compromise in ways that you are not so comfortable with."
IT TOOK THE board a number of votes before it was able to make any reductions to the schools' budget or settle on a tax rate. One by one supervisors voted different levels of cuts to the schools' budget and tried three different motions for a 96 cent tax rate before five members could agree.
Even as the final tax rate was approved, supervisors debated adding an additional $1.104 million in reductions to the county's nonmandated operating costs. Supervisor Bruce E. Tulloch (R-Potomac) said he thought it was an important cut to make to the budget.
"Obviously I am not doing it for any impact because we are still going to be 96 cents," he said. "It is a cut that the county administrator said is manageable."
Staton, however, said the cut was unnecessary because it would relieve the tax burden for residents.
"We can either nickel and dime ourselves and be here all day or we can adopt a tax rate and move on," he said.
Staton said he would only approve a budget with an 89 cent tax rate and during work sessions attempted to bring other supervisors closer last year's rate.
"I don't think we have done our job," he said. "We haven't cut anything. We are the only locality in Northern Virginia that is proposing to increase their tax rate. Even at 89 cents county spending goes up, school spending goes up."
SUPERVISORS APPROVED only projects scheduled for fiscal year 2008 in the Capital Improvement Program (CIP), sticking with their decision from the March 28 work session. Projects for fiscal year 2009 through 2012 will be discussed at a meeting in late April. Supervisors hope to work out a way to include needed school construction projects without surpassing the county's current $200 million debt capacity. The board will have until early May to adopt the entire CIP.
"You are trying to gather together with the School Board to try and reduce the cost of schools in the out years," Supervisor Jim Burton (I-At large) said.
At its last work session, the board voted to add $12.2 million for a new middle school in the Dulles District and $960,000 for the design of a two-story elementary school to the fiscal year 2008 plan. The two schools were the only projects that could be added to 2008 without surpassing the $200 million debt capacity.