Although City Manager Bob Sisson recommended maintaining Fairfax’s residential real-estate tax rate of $1.06 per $100 assessed valuation in Fiscal Year 2014-2015, the City Council is advertising a lower rate.
That’s because – even if the tax rate stays the same – homeowners’ tax bills will still rise because their property has generally seen a 4.5-percent jump in assessed value over last year. So at the March 25 City Council meeting, the councilmen mulled over different tax-rate amounts.
"I’d like us to do due diligence to find as many budget cuts as we can to get to the equalized tax rate," said Councilman Michael DeMarco. That number would be $1.03. Property-tax bills wouldn’t rise, but the City would have to find $2.5 million in budget cuts, over two years, to make up for the revenue loss.
"If the tax rate is $1.03, that means people’s tax burdens would be relatively the same," said Councilman Steven Stombres. "But people tell me all the time they’re willing to pay more for all the amenities they receive. Yet, there are also people who say, ‘My husband lost his job’ or ‘I’m paying more for gas, groceries, heating costs and health care.’"
"They’re living paycheck to paycheck – and we represent all of them – so I’d like to advertise a lower tax rate [than $1.06]," continued Stombres.
Mayor Scott Silverthorne reminded him the City doesn’t yet know how much money it’ll receive back from its school system. Stombres then made a motion to set the advertised tax rate at $1.04 and Councilwoman Eleanor Schmidt seconded it.
"This is our opportunity to build a little discipline into the process," she said. "I think there’s some whittling-down work that we can do."
"But we’d have to role up our sleeves and make cuts," replied Councilman Jeffrey Greenfield. And Sisson said that tax rate would necessitate more than $1.6 million in budget cuts.
The motion was defeated, 4-2, and then Stombres moved that the tax rate be advertised at $1.05. Again, Schmidt seconded and, this time, the motion passed, 5-1, with only Councilman David Meyer dissenting.
This action sets $1.05 as the maximum real-estate tax rate that can be advertised and later adopted on April 30, but doesn’t set the actual amount. According to Sisson, a $1.05 residential real-estate tax rate would require $840,000 in cuts. The Council will hold a public-outreach meeting and work session on the budget next Tuesday, April 8, at 7 p.m. in City Hall, 10455 Armstrong Street.