A bipartisan political action group is calling for a 5 percent limit on annual real estate tax increases in Loudoun County, bringing a regionally divisive theme to a county facing an already desperate budget crisis.
Saying that the Loudoun government spends more tax dollars per person than any other jurisdiction in the Washington suburbs, leaders of Taxaction '91 said they plan to work for candidates in this fall's Board of Supervisors elections who pledge to cut back the size of the county government.
Current members of the board, said Joe Maio, a Round Hill resident and spokesman for the group, "don't even know how much they spend until it hits the fan. It's hit the fan."
Mandatory tax limitations have been proposed at the local and state levels in several area jurisdictions. In Virginia, a state-mandated tax limit has been proposed but not enacted, and a grass-roots tax protest in Fairfax County has not achieved the goal of securing a ballot issue on changing the county government structure.
The Maryland General Assembly has imposed a 10 percent annual ceiling on property tax increases. Voters in Anne Arundel rejected a proposed limit in November, while Montgomery residents approved limiting increases to the rate of inflation.
The Loudoun tax organization, which includes some people who helped elect the current Board of Supervisors in November 1987, hopes to get the development industry to pay a much greater share of the cost of roads, schools and other public facilities associated with growth. Such goals are shared by many Loudoun incumbents, but state legislators have not given local governments as much authority as they want.
Taxaction '91 organizers and some local officials said the group's announcement may reflect a change in the county's agenda from 1987, when land use issues were supreme, to the broader issue of the role and cost of government.
The local tax limit proposal "is a little too simplistic," said Al Sitterson, chairman of the Loudoun Democratic Committee. "A tax cap is very arbitrary" and can lead to unnecessarily painful reductions in services, he said. William Mims, chairman of the county Republican Committee, said yesterday that he was not prepared to comment on the proposal.
Last spring, the Loudoun supervisors approved a $273 million budget for the current fiscal year, a 30 percent rise over the previous year. County Administrator Philip A. Bolen says revenue shortfalls will force cutbacks for the 1992 budget.
With a population of 90,000, Loudoun's government spends more than $3,000 a person per year, significantly higher than other local governments, according to Taxaction '91.
"There is no justification for the high cost of government in Loudoun County," according to a paper released this week by the group. "The budget and our taxes should be about half of what they are due to the relatively small population increases and relatively low inflation rates Loudoun has experienced during the past few years."
Taxaction '91 is not offering proposals on how to cut the budget. Although Maio said he supports giving good people "a competitive wage," he wants to eliminate unnecessary government jobs. Maio said the group will not contribute large sums to candidates but will publicize its backing for candidates of both parties who share its goals.
Maio said the tax ceiling his group seeks would limit the increase in the average real estate tax bill for residential, commercial and industrial properties to 5 percent each year unless voters agree to lift the ceiling in a referendum.
Taxaction '91 organizer Judy Gerow, of Lucketts, said the board has not gone far enough to control development and its costs. Even though the county government can extract money from developers through the proffer system, residential development in many parts of Loudoun costs all taxpayers huge sums of money, she said.