Loudoun Property Tax Hike Approved in Straw Vote

By Derek Kravitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors informally approved a 10 1/2 -cent increase in the property tax rate Monday night, a move that would give Loudoun residents the highest rate in the region.

The board's action, which came in a straw vote and won't be official until the supervisors adopt a budget Tuesday, would raise the tax rate from $1.14 to $1.245 per $100 of assessed value.

But because home assessments in Loudoun have dropped so much in the past year -- by an average of 14.7 percent countywide and 31.1 percent in Sterling -- the average residential tax bill would be $347 lower.

Supervisors said it was necessary to reduce the tax bill of families hurt by the economic recession, adding that their goal was to approve a rate lower than $1.29, the figure originally proposed by former county administrator Kirby M. Bowers.

The board's straw vote was 6 to 3, with Vice Chairman Susan Klimek Buckley (D-Sugarland Run) and Supervisors Eugene A. Delgaudio (R-Sterling) and Lori L. Waters (R-Broad Run) in opposition.

In the past four weeks, the supervisors have pored over lists of possible cuts to county agencies and schools, looking at options that would cut overall funding by 5, 10 and 15 percent. Ben Mays, Loudoun's deputy budget directors, said the supervisors "recognized early the financial conditions we'd be in" when they called for agencies to specify what cuts they would make at each of those funding levels.

The board has decided on most of the funding cuts, which await formal adoption next week.

At Monday's work session, the board also agreed to give the school system an additional $3.5 million after school administrators said they feared the supervisors had gone too far last week in voting to slash $26.8 million from the School Board's budget request. That cut, which represented a funding reduction of about 5 percent, could have forced the school system to make layoffs.

"They had already come to us paring their operation down," said Supervisor Stevens Miller (D-Dulles). "I am delighted at the opportunity to give a little of that back."

Still, the supervisors voting against the tax rate of $1.245 said more budget cuts could have been made to get the rate lower. They noted that the average annual property tax bill in Loudoun spiked from $2,347 in 2001 to $5,306 last year.

"I have proposed many reductions," Delgaudio said. "I felt like we haven't gone far enough."

Property tax revenue is the main source of funding for local governments. The Loudoun tax rate approved Monday is higher than the rates in other Northern Virginia jurisdictions, although Prince William County's recently approved rate of $1.212 does not include a 7 cent tax for fire and rescue services. Loudoun's tax rate includes that levy.

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