Pr. William announces $5.9 million budget shortfall for fiscal 2014

August 31

The Prince William County government is facing a revenue shortfall of $5.9 million for the fiscal year that ended June 30, according to a staff presentation at a Board of County Supervisors meeting this month.

The report said the shortfall was caused in part by a growing number of disabled veterans who qualify for tax exemptions under a state tax relief program. Other factors contributing to the shortfall included the October 2013 federal government shutdown, sequestration, low interest rates and bad weather, according to the report.

Nearly half of the shortfall — $2.8 million — was attributed to tax relief programs for disabled veterans and other elderly or disabled people. Virginia’s Tax Relief for Disabled Veterans program, which is retroactive to 2011, provides 100 percent tax relief for some veterans with disabilities.

Director of Finance Michelle Attreed told the board that Prince William is home to a growing number of disabled veterans.

“We have one of the most generous programs in the commonwealth, which I think is why . . . you see between 2000 and 2014 a big influx of veterans in this area,” Attreed said. She said that proximity to the federal government and the number of consulting jobs nearby also make the county an attractive place for veterans to live.

The number of county households participating in the tax relief program grew by 68 percent from 2011 to 2014, officials said, adding that Virginia experienced the largest increase in the nation in its disabled veteran population between 2000 and 2014.

Other tax revenue was also lower than anticipated. Personal property tax collections were $438,959 below the budget estimate for fiscal 2014. That shortfall was largely a result of the county’s extension of the tax due date during the federal government shutdown, according to the staff report. Sequestration also has had a large impact on the region, Attreed said.

Sales tax revenue was down by $948,456, according to the report. An unusually harsh winter, irregular economic growth and the government shutdown all contributed to a decline in retail sales. Attreed told the board that an increase in the state sales tax also may have hurt retail sales.

The county’s investment income was held down by low interest rates, staff members said, resulting in a shortfall of $865,184 in investment income for fiscal 2014.

Not all revenue sources declined in the fiscal year. An increase in new residential housing and commercial units contributed to a $173,927 increase in consumer utility tax revenue, and tax revenue from business, professional and occupational licenses was up by $208,169 because of a general improvement to the economy, according to the report.

The Finance Department had reported to the board in May that it anticipated a shortfall of about $5 million in tax revenue for fiscal 2014. The estimated amount of the shortfall grew to $5.9 million in the August report.

Supervisor Maureen S. Caddigan (R-Potomac) expressed exasperation at the amount of the shortfall, saying that the board had increased the property taxes for the average homeowner.

“I’m just wondering what has happened since April,” she said. “Because even with that tax rate, we’re still short money.”

Director of Communications Jason Grant said that the county’s share of the revenue shortfall would come from a reserve fund and that the board would not have to raise taxes to cover the shortfall. He said it is the board’s practice to keep the unassigned fund balance at 7.5 percent of the county’s general fund.

Barnes is a freelance writer.

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