Loudoun County supervisors agreed yesterday to consider awarding tax breaks to retirees and to residents who work as county firefighters, emergency medical technicians, teachers and law enforcement officers.
Board Chairman Dale Polen Myers (R-At Large) said she proposed the real estate property tax breaks out of concern that many people cannot afford to live in Loudoun because of its tax rate of $1.11 per $100 of assessed value.
In two votes yesterday, the board agreed to forward the proposal to a committee for more study.
County officials said they did not know what the proposal would mean in lost revenue, and one supervisor said that taxes would have to be increased for everyone else in order to pay for it.
Several board members said it was not fair to single out some people for special tax breaks while leaving out others, particularly county workers who are paid less than teachers. They said the board should look at increasing salaries instead.
In addition, some questioned Myers's timing in putting forth the proposal less than a month before local elections. "It's pure election gimmickry," said Scott K. York (R-Sterling), who is challenging Myers for board chairman. "She knows she's in trouble before the election, and she's trying to buy votes."
York said that if developers were made to pay their "fair share," taxes would be kept down.
Myers disputed York's comments. She said after talking recently with people in the community, she became aware that many residents cannot afford to live in Loudoun.
"Maybe if Mr. York had been out in the community more instead of doing whatever he's doing, he would find that these are real issues," Myers said.
Specifically, her proposal calls for the board to study freezing real estate taxes for senior citizens. She also wants to look into giving unspecified real estate tax breaks to teachers, sheriff's deputies, firefighters and emergency medical technicians who live and work in Loudoun.
County officials said the state General Assembly might need to approve any legislation that would allow such tax breaks.
Noting that many Loudoun firefighters are volunteers, Myers said the tax break would be a recruiting incentive for the department. Also, she pointed out that supervisors do not have direct authority over teacher salaries; the School Board does, after the supervisors approve an overall budget.
As for retirees, Myers said many are on fixed incomes and cannot afford increases in their taxes.
Supervisor David G. McWatters (R-Broad Run) questioned whether the proposal was constitutional and whether it would be fair to other workers on the lower end of the salary scale.