City of Manassas passes budget, real-estate tax hike for fiscal ’14

The Manassas City Council passed, 4-2, one of the city’s biggest real-estate tax increases in years on Monday, generating dollars to begin a series of capital construction projects city leaders say are needed.

The $100.3 million fiscal ‘14 operating budget that the council approved will pay for sidewalk widening in the town’s historic Old Town business district, a new elementary school and drainage improvements, among other projects.

School officials will begin to formulate plans for what a new Baldwin Elementary School, a projected debated for years, will look like.

The city also added a new economic development department, made up of two employees, that will seek to lure new companies to the city.

The real-estate tax bill for the average homeowner will increase 7.1 percent to $3,108 this year, the largest year-over-year increase since 2006. The tax rate will go up nearly $.03, from $1.36 per $100 assessed to $1.39 per $100 assessed. Residential property assessments climbed 5 percent on average.

The biggest ticket item provided initial funding starting next year for a new $38 million Baldwin Elementary School, which would be a “two-in-one” elementary and magnet school.

City Council members Marc T. Aveni (R) and Ian T. Lovejoy (R) voted against the budget and tax increases.

After the vote, Lovejoy said in an interview that the city should have gone away from its five-year capital spending plan and looked to spread costs over more years.

“It’s this year, the next year and the next,” he said of future tax increases to pay for planned capital projects. “I’m not going to vote for a [capital budget] that obligates a future City Council.”

City Council member Jonathan L. “Jon” Way (R) said an interview that the city will benefit from hiring employees devoted to spurring business growth, particularly in the city’s historic Old Town business district.

“We just haven’t done anything in the last four years,” Way said.

The City Council has a second vote on the budget Wednesday, called a “second reading.” That vote, however, is usually considered a formality.

Manassas school superintendent Catherine Magouyrk declined to comment on the budget until after the second vote. But she said that the new $38 million Baldwin school could be completed in 2016 if the current timeline holds. School officials plan to form a committee to deliver input on what the new building should be like and future public hearings will be planned, Magouyrk said.

The school system, she said, will consider bids from competing architectural firms and decide who should build and design the new buildings.

Along with its vote, the city also voted to cut its housing advocate, which had been mandated after a discrimination lawsuit settlement in 2008. The settlement term is over and city officials say competing priorities take precedent.

Jeremy Borden covers Prince William County, Va., for The Washington Post.
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