Loudoun supervisors set to adopt budget that cuts property tax rate

After a month of lengthy and often heated work sessions, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors appears ready to adopt a final budget plan this week for fiscal 2013.

As it stands, the nearly $1.8 billion spending plan would reduce the property tax rate to $1.235 per $100 of assessed value. The proposed rate is lower than the level at which Loudoun homeowners would see no change in their tax bills but higher than the $1.21 rate initially proposed by supervisors.

For the owner of a home assessed at $400,000, the new rate would mean a decrease of $200 in next year’s property taxes.

The board voted last month to begin its budget negotiations with a rate of $1.21 per $100 of assessed value, a goal that quickly proved unattainable for supervisors and School Board members. That rate would have required about $50 million in cuts from the fiscal plan recommended by County Administrator Tim Hemstreet, and the School Board would have been left with a $44 million shortfall.

Throughout the budget review, the nine members of Loudoun’s newly elected all-Republican board — who ran on campaign platforms emphasizing fiscal responsibility — have expressed differing views about where and how to cut costs.

At a final budget work session last week, support for the current proposal was hardly unanimous, with three supervisors opposed to the $1.235 tax rate.

Supervisor Kenneth D. Reid (R-Leesburg) said he thought that the rate was too low and would pose too great a challenge for the School Board, which faces a $22 million funding gap between the schools budget presented to the Board of Supervisors and the fiscal plan that the county is likely to adopt Wednesday.

“I don’t know where the School Board is going to get $22 million to cut,” Reid said, adding that he would prefer that the supervisors consider a slightly higher rate of $1.25. “I think it’s going to impact [the schools] greatly to have to deal with $22 million in cuts.”

But supervisors Suzanne Volpe (R-Algonkian) and Eugene A. Delgaudio (R-Sterling), who joined Reid in voting against the $1.235 tax rate, took the opposite position and said the rate placed too heavy a burden on taxpayers.

“It doesn’t bode well for those who are hurting,” Volpe said.

Delgaudio said he felt strongly that the proposed $51 million increase in funding for Loudoun’s public schools was too much, but he voiced appreciation for the efforts made by his colleagues and staff to cut costs.

“I’m not voting no because you haven’t worked hard enough,” Delgaudio told fellow board members.

Other supervisors agreed that they would like to see the tax rate lowered further in the future but said that additional cuts weren’t possible this year.

“I think we have a pretty good product here,” said Supervisor Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn). “What we’re trying to do is bring that back in the right direction without just cutting everything out of the budget. And I think we’ve struck that balance.”

Buona also said that he was frustrated by the portrayal of the school system’s $22 million shortfall as “cuts” made by the supervisors. He pointed out that the budget proposed by the School Board represented a $73 million increase over current funding.

“We have given them a $51 million increase,” he said. “So when I hear these things about a $22 million deficit, that’s $22 million off . . . a $73 million request. They’re still getting $51 million this year that they didn’t get last year.”

Buona said he had spoken to School Board members who told him that they were confident they could cope with the additional cuts.

“I had a couple of School Board members come up to me and say, ‘I can get $22 million,’ ” he said.

“They said, ‘I’m glad you did that.’ ”

Supervisor Shawn Williams (R-Broad Run) echoed Buona’s frustration about the depiction of the $22 million gap as a cut: “It’s deceptive.”

Williams added that he understood the challenge faced by new School Board members as they worked to cut costs to a system they didn’t yet fully understand. Like Buona, he said he had also spoken to School Board members who expressed confidence that they could further reduce costs next year.

“I’m going to hold them to that commitment,” Williams said.

In his concluding comments, Chairman Scott K. York (R-At Large) said it was important for the board to consider funding some programs — beyond just the county’s most vital services — that add value to the community.

“To get caught up and only fund core services is not necessarily always the right thing to look at,” he said.

Specifically, York said, he planned to make a motion at the board’s meeting Tuesday to reconsider funding the county’s urban horticulturist position, which oversees the Master Gardeners education program.

“There are other things that do help to make this community a better place,” he said.

The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to adopt the county’s fiscal 2013 budget at its meeting Wednesday. The School Board plans to hold additional budget work sessions before adopting a reconciled fiscal plan late this month.

County residents can submit their comments about the budget by e-mailing loudounbudget@
loudoun.gov
, calling 703-777-0115 or writing to the Board of Supervisors, P.O. Box 7000, Leesburg, Va. 20177.

Caitlin Gibson covers Loudoun County for The Washington Post.
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