Loudoun County will oppose a one-cent regional sales tax for the region's troubled Metro system.
The Board of Supervisors on Thursday voted unanimously on a formal resolution brought forth by western Loudoun Supervisor Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin) expressing the county's opposition to the plan proposed by a Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) panel.
Opposition to the sales tax comes as Loudoun County Administrator Tim Hemstreet and county staff have put together an alternative capital funding scenario to the regional sales tax.
Supervisors argued the proposed regional sales tax was not fair to a county like Loudoun that will only gain about three miles of track. They also said the sales tax did not consider the constraints of other jurisdictions.
"Our responsibility is to our constituents, it's not to fix Metro for the entire region," said Vice Chairman Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn), who voted to opt in to Metro five years ago. "Metro doesn't even operate to Loudoun yet, and it should have never gotten to a state of disrepair, it should have never gotten to this state of operational inefficiencies ... So don't expect us to shoulder that burden, those individuals are shirking their responsibilities of finding a fiscally responsible solution."
Loudoun strongly opposing the sales tax idea has raised the eyebrows of neighboring jurisdictions in the commonwealth. Some have called on Loudoun to not "shirk" its responsibility to participate equitably in its share toward Metro.
Ahead of the vote, Supervisor Kristen Umstattd (D-Leesburg) said she would support the resolution, but reluctantly.
Umstattd warned that if Loudoun's alternative funding scenario does not get approved by the General Assembly, it could put the county in an embarrassing position and end up costing residents more.
"If the plan Loudoun has come up with " doesn't get approved by the General Assembly and if the Metro tax districts with their increased property taxes aren't able to carry the full financial load of Metro, then if we don't have a sales tax option and it falls back on the property tax, it becomes a burden for every property owner and every person who rents property in the whole county," Umstattd said.
Despite Umstattd's concern, board members continued to object to the sales tax and said other options were still on the table.
Supervisor Suzanne Volpe (R-Algonkian) pointed out that if more revenue is needed for Metro the county could always enlarge the Metro tax districts before taxing residents across the county.
Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) said she wanted to make it clear that not everyone in Virginia supported the sales tax proposal.
"[The sales tax] didn't take into account the different ideologies, mindsets, beliefs and constraints of all four jurisdictions that sit in MWCOG," Randall said. "I think the 1 percent [sales tax] was just quite frankly premature."
For years local leaders of Metro jurisdictions have been lobbying for a dedicated source of funding.
In April, Metro's General Manager Paul Wiedefeld called for a $500 million dedicated regional revenue stream for capital improvements, although he did not indicate where the money should come from. Wiedefeld said Metro would need $15.5 billion over the next decade and that, without a change to its business model, funding jurisdictions would have to continue to choose each year "between substantially reducing service" or finding $12 billion more in public money for Metro's operations over the next decade.
The board's opposition to the sales tax comes as the Silver Line extension into Loudoun is nearly 50 percent complete and slated to open in 2020. However, some residents have been calling for the county to "Mexit" amid skyrocketing annual costs associated with the transit system's operations and construction for jurisdictions around the region.
"The dream of Metro was sold on the basis that it was going to pay for itself," Supervisor Higgins said. "And it was going to pay for itself through the increase in property tax values, it was going to be money that was going to come in from the tax districts " we've had nothing but bad news since that vote."
"To add an additional 1 percent sales tax to this tax to fall in Loudoun County to the tune of $1.6 billion over 10 years, is frankly outrageous for three miles [of track] and two stations that we have," he added.
Here is the county's approved resolution:
WHEREAS, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments issued the Technical Panel Final Report on Metro in April 2017 for the purposes of recommending a regional funding solution for Metro and,
WHEREAS, the Technical Panel recommended implementation of a 1% regional sales tax on the citizens of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia to fund $15.6 billion in capital and maintenance needs over the next ten years, resulting in $650 million annual tax revenue and,
WHEREAS, the Final Report estimates that the distribution of taxes collected by jurisdictions to be 10.2% for Loudoun County, 22.8% for the District of Columbia, 14% for Montgomery County, 12.5% for Prince Georges County, 6% for Arlington County, 4.9% for City of Alexandria, 27.6% for Fairfax County, 0.6% for the City of Falls Church, 1.5% for the City of Fairfax, 50.8% collectively for the Northern Virginia Region and, WHEREAS, the tax burden on Loudoun County residents is already significant and,
WHEREAS, Loudoun County residents already pay a 2.1% Northern Virginia gas tax, an increased sales tax rate from 5% to 6% due to HB2313, and increased toll rates on the Dulles Toll Road and the Greenway, WHEREAS, an additional 1% increase in the sales tax rate as proposed by the Technical Panel would add to the tax burden of Loudoun County residents,
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT, on July 20, 2017, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors opposes a 1% Metro Regional Sales Tax and supports inclusion of this position in the Loudoun County General Assembly Legislative Program.