City Council hopes to cut real-estate tax

MANASSAS — With real-estate tax assessments up an average 19 percent this year for local residents, members of the City Council decided Wednesday night that a rate cut of 2 cents wasn’t enough to lessen the sting of higher taxes.

Instead, the council voted unanimously to include a 4-cent cut in the city’s proposed fiscal 2003 budget. The cut would lower the tax rate from $1.24 to $1.20 per $100 of assessed property value.

“You know what fuels the city’s economy? The low tax rate. As long as we have that, we’re in good shape,” said Councilman Bob Oliver.

The tax-rate cut precedes similar action proposed by Prince William County, which is considering a 7-cent tax cut that would lower its rate from $1.30 to $1.23.

Council members complained Wednesday night of cuts in funding not only from the commonwealth, but also of a surprise $345,390 increase in the fees Prince William County charges the city for shared services such as the library and the Sheriff’s Office.

“The county government is charging us for the tax cut they’re giving their own citizens,” said Councilwoman Judy Hays.

The council voted not only to cut tax rates but to raise the salaries of city employees by an average 11 percent.

“I know we have outstanding staff and people working for us. And I think this is a wonderful way to reward them,” Oliver said.

With the tax rate and the pay raise decided, the rest of the council’s budget mark-up session moved quickly Wednesday night, with council members staying true to almost all of the budget restraints proposed by City Manager Lawrence Hughes.

If the proposed budget is passed April 23, a wide range of city departments will feel the belt tightening:

l Manassas schools received $129,863 less than what had been requested;

l the council denied the police department’s request for a new deputy chief of police and two new police officers;

l the city’s training budget was cut from $25,000 to $15,000, a move which leaves no money for CPR and hazardous-materials training for city employees, according to Jeri Huggins, director of human resources;

l and a proposed $375,137 increase in funding for road paving was removed.

The city will see if it has enough money at the end of the year to pay for such improvements as additional sidewalk replacement, money for a new traffic signal and winter holiday decorations for Mathis Avenue and City Square.

The council also wants more time to decide whether the city should fund the hiring of four career firefighters, trained in Advanced Life Support techniques, to work for the volunteer fire department.

When asked how important the requested positions had been to the police department, Chief John J. Skinner pointed to his supplemental requests, which listed the deputy police chief position as a top priority. But something else, he said, was more important.

“The No. 1 priority for me was the pay increases,” he said, a sentiment echoed by Public Works Director Michael Moon.

Councilman Harry J. “Hal” Parrish II said the council faced many hard decisions this year.

“We want to give pay raises and tax cuts. But there is only so much,” he said.

Staff writer Chris Newmarker can be reached at (703) 368-3101, Ext. 119.

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