The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors directed county staff Tuesday to prepare the fiscal 2022 proposed budget at a property tax rate of $1.025, which is 1 cent above the overall equalized rate.
At the rate of $1.025 per $100 in assessed value, the average homeowner’s bill would increase by $159 from last year.
Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large), who made the motion to accept staff’s recommendation, said the rate could drop as the board considers the base budget, funding priorities and requests for the school division and body-worn cameras. If the rate were to drop, so would the average homeowner’s bill.
“I’d rather put it somewhere and go down than put it too low and have to go up,” Randall said.
As part of the staff’s recommendation, preparing the proposed budget at 1 cent above the overall equalized tax rate would include all of the board priority resource requests and departmental first priority resource requests.
The board voted 6-3, with Supervisors Caleb Kershner (R-Catoctin), Tony Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) and Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles) opposing the motion.
County staff said at the recommended rate, $9.1 million would be available for resource requests.
Highlighted board priorities include body-worn cameras, collective bargaining administration, and adult drug court expansion totaling about $4 million.
Departmental first-priority requests are generally items of a critical nature such as an epidemiologist in the Loudoun County Health Department, cybersecurity staffing in information technology, an employee relations analyst in human resources, a zoning administration planner in planning and zoning, and a probation officer in community corrections, according to county staff.
Letourneau, the finance committee chairman, said the county has increased its funding every year to the school system on an average of 8 percent — something for which he is proud. With the proposed rate of $1.025, he said the funding increase is projected to jump to 12.8 percent.
The school division estimated a shortfall of $114.4 million, according to an Aug. 11, 2020, memo from then-Superintendent Eric Williams. The school system is also aiming to address supporting enrollment growth, opening two new elementary schools, the North Star School and restoring funding that was reduced during the fiscal 2021 budget reconciliation process.
Letourneau made a motion to prepare the proposed budget at the equalized tax rate of $1.015 with options to increase or decrease two cents, but the motion failed 3-6 with Buffington and Kershner in favor.
“I do want to be straightforward with my constituents and with all of you and say, ‘No, I don’t support that,’” Letourneau said. “I’m going to go with a little bit lower tax rate to start with because I believe that we can actually cover all the things that we want to do — all the departmental requests that we want to cover, the other board priorities, which I may or may not support all of them, but they can be covered — and a very healthy increase for the schools at that amount.”
The school board is expected to meet Thursday to discuss the fiscal 2022 budget.
Kershner sided with Letourneau. The Catoctin supervisor suggested funding the body cameras over the next few years should be reconsidered, with many taxpayers in Loudoun struggling to pay their mortgages.
“I’m very concerned that if we set it at $1.025, which is the staff recommended, that we’re going to end up at $1.035 because I’ve been through this budget process once before, and we’ve seen it bump up,” Kershner said.
Supervisor Juli Briskman (D-Algonkian) opposed Letourneau’s motion but echoed his remarks that it is easier to remove items from the budget than add them because such moves could raise taxes.
“If we decide we don’t want to fund the body-worn cameras program when we’re going through our budget and we’re going through our priorities, we can take that out. But it is much more difficult to put stuff in,” Briskman said. “We have already prioritized what we want to accomplish, and the $1.025 tax rate accomplishes what we have decided that we want to accomplish.”
County Administrator Tim Hemstreet is scheduled to present the proposed budget Feb. 10 at 5 p.m. along with options to either increase or decrease 1 cent from the proposed tax rate. The presentation will kick off several public hearings and work sessions scheduled to run through March.Staff was also directed to research funding options to administer the body-worn camera program.
Fiscal 2020 budget presentation and work sessions
Feb. 10, 5 p.m. — Budget presentation (Board’s public hearing to follow at 6 p.m.)
Feb. 18 — Capital Improvement Program work session
March 1 — Budget work session
March 3 — Capital Improvement Program work session
March 4 — Budget work session
March 8 — Budget work session
March 11 — Budget work session
March 15 — Budget work session
March 18 — Budget work session
All work sessions are scheduled for 6 p.m.