The Leesburg Town Council voted 5 to 2 without debate Tuesday night to keep its property tax rate at 22 cents per $100 of assessed value, rejecting Town Manager Robert S. Noe Jr.'s proposal for a two-cent increase.
Noe said the increase, which would have been the first since 1997, would have financed such sorely needed capital improvement projects as building sidewalks and improving storm water drainage systems. Noe has proposed a tax increase every year since he became town manager in 1999 and has been turned down every time.
The 2004-05 budget, however, is still expected to be considerably higher than last year's $69 million budget because of higher property assessments, an increase in businesses and residents, and higher-than-expected revenue from water and sewer fees charged to new developments.
Michael Freda, the town's budget officer, said the town also expects an additional $100,000 in revenue from its park and recreation department, mostly from increased use of the expanded Ida Lee recreation center, and has $2 million left from previous budgets.
"A lot of this money comes from being fiscally conservative in '03, and that carried over," Freda said. The two-cent tax increase would have raised another $850,000, Freda said.
Noe proposed a $100 million budget in March that also called for a three-cent increase in the property tax in 2006. The council is expected to finalize the budget figure and spending breakdown within weeks. The overall budget is expected to include most of Noe's top eight priorities, including $350,000 for a high-tech software system and three additional police officers. Council members, however, could substitute some requests with items lower on the priority list, such as a $25,000 tree-management plan.
Property taxes provide about one-third of the town's general fund, which covers most town services, including road and town property maintenance, police and parks. Utilities and Leesburg Executive Airport are funded separately.
Melinda Kramer was the only council member to voice her support of a tax increase, advocating a one-cent bump up as a compromise. "The town is growing, and we have more needs," said Kramer, who said she would like to see work on sidewalks, curbs and gutters throughout town.
Kramer voted against maintaining the current tax rate, as did council member Fernando "Marty" Martinez.
Council member David B. Schmidt said that officials faced difficult choices on how to generate revenue but that it was important to keep the rate the same.
"All things considered, this is the best way to go," he said.
Mayor Kristen C. Umstattd said she intends to keep more than $3 million in reserves to enable the town to maintain a high bond rating. She said that the state budget battle in Richmond had not adversely affected Leesburg to the degree that it has hurt other jurisdictions, notably Loudoun County, but that she was disappointed not to see any new funding for roadways.
"We do have a number of transportation needs," Umstattd said, citing as a main concern the lack of funding to extend Battlefield Parkway from the Dulles Greenway to Route 15 south and from Edwards Ferry Road to Fort Evans Road.