Supervisors Considering 3-Cent Tax Rate Increase

By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A divided Fairfax County Board of Supervisors agreed yesterday to consider raising the property tax rate by 3 cents as it begins a long budget season deliberating its tightest spending proposal in years.

The board won't make a decision on the property tax rate until later this year. But supervisors agreed to advertise a tax rate of 92 cents per $100 of assessed value in legal notices for upcoming budget hearings, giving themselves the option to raise the rate if they decide it is warranted.

"This is not the year to start new programs," said Supervisor Linda Q. Smyth (D-Providence). "But we need to hear from the public and to hear what they think about some of the things being cut. If we advertise at 89 cents, we are precluding the full discussion we need to have."

The board's two Republicans, Michael R. Frey (Sully) and Pat S. Herrity (Springfield), disagreed. In a rare show of discord that is likely to become more common with the outspoken Herrity newly elected to the board, the two Republicans argued that the public has grown mistrustful and cynical toward government and that the board must find ways to trim the budget without raising taxes.

"It's a difficult time," Herrity said. "Like our homeowners throughout the county, we need to make difficult decisions. We had to do that back in 1992 when we had tough times, and we need to do it now."

Two weeks ago, County Executive Anthony H. Griffin proposed a $3.3 billion spending plan for the year beginning July 1 that includes no new spending for government services or schools. At the board's instruction, Griffin kept the county's tax rate at 89 cents per $100 -- producing a tax bill of $4,450 for a home valued at $500,000 -- but he also suggested that the board consider a 3-cent tax increase. On average, such an increase would not cause tax bills to rise, because average home assessments in the county declined 3 percent this year.

The 3 cents would generate an additional $68 million, enough to give the School Board at least some of the additional money it has requested, fund an expansion of the Code Enforcement Strike Team and amend Griffin's proposal to divert dedicated money for transportation and storm-water management to other operating expenses.

Board Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) said the decision on the tax rate should come only after the board has had a chance to hear from the public during budget hearings. Connolly also noted that 3 cents is hardly a "monumental" tax increase, particularly when compared with Prince William County, where county officials have proposed a 22-cent increase, and Loudoun County, where a 26-cent increase has been proposed.

"We get paid to do the right thing," Connolly said. "We get paid to do the responsible thing."

In other business, the board agreed to send a letter to Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) and Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) urging them to find new transportation revenue to replace the regional taxes and fees that were thrown out. The Virginia Supreme Court ruled that the regional taxes were unconstitutional because they were imposed by an unelected body.

The board also instructed the county police department to use new maps that detail where home foreclosures are most prevalent to help prevent rising crime that is often associated with high foreclosure rates.

As in much of the nation, the county's foreclosure rate has skyrocketed in recent months, and supervisors are concerned that concentrated pockets of foreclosures will precipitate more neighborhood decline in already struggling areas.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company