Modest tax hike? It’s possible, say supervisors
County Administrator Tim Hemstreet submitted a nearly $2 billion fiscal 2015 budget to the Board of Supervisors Feb. 5, the same night the School Board approved a $949 million budget for the coming year. Under Mr. Hemstreet's proposal, which would keep property taxes steady, there's a nearly $40 million shortfall in the county's allocation to the schools.
“I don't know yet. I really don't,” said Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles) when asked if he'll be willing to budge on taxes. “I don't go in with a completely preconceived notion of what the tax rate should be.”
Mr. Letourneau's colleague, Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn), chairman of the board's finance committee, noted he's “not drawing any lines in the sand on the budget.”
“We'll have to look at $1.155 (the proposed equalized tax rate) and see what it funds and what it doesn't fund,” Mr. Buona said.
One concern Mr. Buona said he has with the schools' proposal is there's no way for the Board of Supervisors to examine priorities within the LCPS budget.
“I was disappointed because they haven't given us much to work with. I really don't want to be shooting in the dark at targets,” he said.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Scott York (R-At Large) said, with the exception of a couple of supervisors, he believes most of his board members will be willing to considering the LCPS proposed enhancements.
“I think most board members are open to understanding fully where the School Board is,・Mr. York said.
Like the finance chairman, Mr. York said he hopes School Board members will clearly lay out what budget items get cut and what stay in under different funding scenarios.
A Feb. 18 meeting between the Board of Supervisors and the School Board is expected to detail the schools' budget requests.
Because of increased revenues and property values over the past year, the county's local transfer to the schools would increase by more than $45 million within Mr. Hemstreet's budget. Factoring in additional revenue from the state, the schools will get an increase of more than $60 million from last year just at the equalized rate, Mr. York said.
In the past two budget cycles, the LCPS budget has increased from nearly $746 million to $843.5 million. The local fund transfer from the county has spiked from $494 million to more than $553.5 million, a 12 percent increase, according to Vice Chairman Shawn Williams (R-At Large).
Mr. Hemstreet's proposed fiscal 2015 fiscal plan follows the supervisors' guidance to hold taxes level for the average homeowner and it continues to include two cents within the advertised real property tax rate to fund high priority transportation infrastructure projects.
Supervisor Ken Reid (R-Leesburg) made the most transparent indication that he'd be open to a slight tax bump during the Feb. 5 business meeting.
“Forty-two million dollars, my friends, is quite a lot to cut,” Mr. Reid said of the schools' budget at an equalized county rate. “ … This may be politically unpopular and everything, but I don't know if I can support an equalized rate. I'm not going to support a full rate … but I'm certainly willing to go a little bit higher, and I hope my colleagues will consider that.”