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Supervisors Trim Rate, Pass Budget

Average Tax Bill To Climb $464

By Michael Laris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 7, 2005; Page LZ01

The $967 million operating budget passed Tuesday by the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors increases spending for schools and public safety while cutting the tax rate by 6.75 cents.

Proponents called it a difficult bid to achieve balance, while critics said the tax rate of $1.04 per $100 of assessed value was arbitrary and faulted supervisors for eliminating $7 million requested by the School Board for teacher salaries.

Supervisors Jim E. Clem, from left, Lori L. Waters and D.M. "Mick" Staton Jr. voted to approve the budget. (Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)

Despite the rate cut, the average tax bill will still rise by $464 because of rising property assessments, which are up an average of 20 percent this year. The average home value in Loudoun has more than doubled since 2000.

The fundamental tension in Loudoun between advocates of deeper tax rate cuts and proponents of increased spending on schools and other public services remains. But even advocates of higher spending on education acknowledged that elected officials were under intense pressure this year to lessen the effect of soaring assessments.

School Board Chairman John A. Andrews II (Potomac) told supervisors before their vote Tuesday that they would have to "agree to disagree" on the school budget. Supervisors allocated $651.7 million for schools, including debt service. That represented a 15 percent increase over last year but fell short of the request from Andrews and his colleagues.

Andrews said afterward that he understood the pressure faced by his fellow Republicans on the Board of Supervisors.

"It's really hard for me to criticize because I think there was a sticker shock people had with assessment increases," he said. "In years past, there were people out there saying, 'I'll pay more to receive more for education.' I think the sticker shock kind of set people back a little bit. That tempered the mood in the overall community."

The six Republican supervisors voted for the budget. Supervisors James G. Burton (I-Blue Ridge) and board Chairman Scott K. York (I) voted no. Supervisor Sarah "Sally" R. Kurtz (D-Catoctin) abstained.

Kurtz said school officials "went back and went through their budget line by line" and should have received millions more from the county.

"I believe in public education as a great equalizer of our nation," she said. "There needs to be logic if we're going to say, 'In this area, or that area, you need to tighten your belt.' "

Supervisor D.M. "Mick" Staton Jr. (R-Sugarland Run), who pushed his Republican colleagues to accept the $1.04 tax rate, responded that "it's our job to figure out how much money they get."

"It's never an easy process," Staton said, adding that the county spent months on a program-by-program review of spending that led to "the largest single one-year rate reduction in recent history."

Much deeper cuts were unrealistic, given the fast-growing county's needs, some officials said.

"The fire and rescue system is so far behind the curve, we need to get caught up, and we need to do it rapidly," said Supervisor Jim E. Clem (R-Leesburg).

Supervisors also passed a five-year, $895 million capital improvements plan that includes building eight elementary schools, two middle schools and three high schools and renovating other schools. It includes six public safety centers in Aldie, Lansdowne, Brambleton, Broadlands and western Loudoun; additions to the new Adult Detention Center; the Dulles South Regional Library; five regional park-and-ride lots; the Sugarland Run teen center; and renovations to the Loudoun Valley Community Center.

The budget for fiscal 2006 takes effect July 1.

Staff Writer Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.

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