In hearings and e-mails, Loudoun residents oppose tax hikes

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By Sholnn Freeman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 28, 2010

Loudoun County supervisors are treading cautiously on the subject of property tax increases and school spending, signaling awareness that a wrong move could prove costly politically.

During public comment hearings last week on the proposed budget, supervisors listened as speakers from the community complained about looming cuts for libraries, school programs and nonprofit groups. The Democratic-majority board also got an earful from a number of Republican activists who denounced any tax increases for homeowners as "fiscally irresponsible."

But what has especially captured their attention, board members say, is the feedback they are getting outside the hearing room: a steady stream of e-mails from residents opposed to a tax increase.

"I'm getting dozens per day," Supervisor Kelly Burk (D-Leesburg) said. "It's a pretty grim year. There are a lot of us who realize that people are in bad shape."

Burk, a special education teacher, said she hasn't made up her mind "one way or another" about a tax increase or whether she'll vote to give Loudoun public schools the full increase from county funds they request.

"I'm going through the budget, page by page," she said.

Supervisor James Burton (I-Blue Ridge) said he is also getting e-mails from people concerned about taxes.

"Dozens are coming every day," he said. "They are serious. There are hardship stories, and many are very compelling."

Burton said a lot of people who are speaking out live on the eastern side of the county, an area hit hard by home foreclosures and distressed sales.

To make up for a $191.6 million budget gap, Loudoun's county administrator, Tim Hemstreet, has proposed cutting 105 full-time positions and freezing salaries. But the administrator's proposed budget also calls for a tax rate of $1.40 per 100 assessed value tax rate, a 12 percent increase over this year's. The change would make the county's tax rate the highest in Northern Virginia.

Burton, who also heads the board's finance committee, said he doubted the school system would get the full 5 percent increase in the county transfer amount that it seeks.

"I would be surprised if the School Board gets what they ask for," Burton said. "I think it will be some reduction."


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