Supervisors indicate a tax-rate preference

Last week, the Prince William Board of County Supervisors tentatively backed a real estate tax rate for the next fiscal year, paving the way for a final vote on a $914.1  million general fund budget.

Supervisors said that last week’s meeting put the final budget framework into order: Plans for a $443,000 economic development office in the eastern end of the county were scrapped, and supervisors largely agreed that a $28.1 million central “mid-county” police station would stay on the books. The station’s construction isn’t scheduled to begin until fiscal 2015.

Supervisors agreed, 6 to 1, on an unofficial “straw pole” vote to back a real estate tax rate of $1.209 per every $100 assessed. Peter K. Candland (R-Gainesville), who has advocated for a lower rate, voted against that rate. Supervisor Frank J. Principi (D-Woodbridge) was not at the meeting. But, supervisors said, he has also advocated for a higher rate.

With the rate at $1.209, the average real estate tax bill would rise $102 to $3,303, according to a county presentation.

Supervisor Martin E. Nohe (R-Coles) asked supervisors to consider a $1.204 rate by cutting, among other positions, two newly requested prosecutors in the Commonwealth’s Attorney Office.

But although Nohe said that he thought there were some cuts that could be made, he backed the slightly higher real estate tax rate because, he said, he knew a majority of supervisors wouldn’t support his proposed rate.

“We’ve learned this from the state budget,” Nohe said, referring to the Virginia Senate’s protracted wrangling this year over the budget. “The most important thing now is that we get a budget.”

Supervisor Maureen Caddigan (R-Potomac), a former member of the county School Board, said that she would have liked a higher rate to get more money for the school system. This year, school budget issues were front and center, as county teachers visibly protested for a pay increase.

She said that Supervisor John Jenkins (D-Neabsco) and Principi probably would support a higher rate. But that’s short of a majority needed for it to pass.

“We only have three, so let’s move on,” Caddigan said. With a lot of good items in the budget, “I don’t want to vote against” it.

Although the county school’s budget, which passed last month, will not be affected, the schools’ budget outlook over the next five years has officials nervous.

“It certainly raises concerns for the years to come,” said school system spokesman Philip Kavits.

Supervisors took action on their part of the budget to address those concerns: They reduced how much was budgeted for health-care expenses overall and also took $500,000 out of a $2 million pot set aside between fiscal 2014 and 2017 to deal with potential requirements from the federal Affordable Care Act.

In this year’s budget, supervisors denied requests from 12 outside community organizations — including Northern Virginia Family Service and Rappahannock Council Against Sexual Assault. StreetLight Community Outreach Ministries, a Woodbridge organization that helps the poor in Northern Virginia, was awarded $15,000.

The county still has many other community partners, including the Boys and Girls Club and Hylton Performing Arts.

Supervisors can still make changes to the budget at their Tuesday meeting, when they are expected to formally adopt the budget plan.

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