With home values skyrocketing and tax bills expected to rise again, pressure is mounting on Prince William County supervisors to reduce the real estate tax rate more than the 4 cents that County Executive Craig S. Gerhart proposed Tuesday.
Gerhart's $614.5 million spending plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1 represents a 13 percent increase from this year. It would continue the agreement with the county School Board to provide 56.75 percent of tax dollars for education. The plan would also fund an additional 28 firefighters and emergency service technicians, 20 more police officers and give county employees an average 6.5 percent raise.
Gerhart's proposal includes a 4-cent real estate tax rate cut, to $1.19 per $100 of assessed value, from $1.23. That would be the county's fourth consecutive tax rate decrease. But with county home values rising by more than 15 percent, the typical homeowner would still see a 12 percent increase in the tax bill, Finance Director Chris Martino told supervisors at their meeting Tuesday.
That may be too much for some supervisors, especially in an election year.
"I have poor people in my district, people on fixed incomes, and they can't afford a tax increase," Supervisor John D. Jenkins (D-Neabsco) said.
He called on county officials to revisit the budget and come back with a proposal that would include no increase in homeowner tax bills.
Reducing spending enough to counter increases in home assessments would mean eliminating spending priorities identified by residents and supervisors, Gerhart said. And it would likely shred the revenue-sharing agreement on school spending. Even reducing the tax rate a penny -- foregoing about $2.7 million in revenue -- would not only hurt county government in the short run but put the integrity of the county's five-year spending plan at risk, Gerhart said.
Board Chairman Sean T. Connaughton (R-At Large) said he expects that the debate over the county budget and tax rate has just begun.
"The board is very much aware that people are concerned that the real taxes they are paying are moving up because of the value of their homes," he said. "On the other hand, the board has been extremely prudent in spending tax revenue on necessities, not frills. But it is an election year, so whatever concerns are out there will be magnified."
With state and federal funding included, total government and education spending for the county for the 2004 fiscal year is projected to be $1.3 billion.
Supervisors will adopt a final budget in April. A public presentation on the budget plan is scheduled for Monday. Public hearings on the budget are scheduled for March 24 at Stonewall Jackson High School and March 26 at the Ferlazzo government building.