The county’s proposed real estate tax rate is as low as supervisors can go without hurting vital services, according to the chairman of the board of county supervisors.
During ongoing work sessions on the fiscal year 2006 budget proposal, board chairman Sean T. Connaughton, R-at large, said tax cuts deeper than the proposed 14.6-cent reduction would have to come out of schools, roads or police services.
“That is where the money is going: schools, roads and public safety,” Connaughton said.
The proposed fiscal year 2006 budget includes an $80-million increase over fiscal year 2005. The increase is largely due to additional spending on roads, schools and police.
Connaughton’s warning came in response to a suggestion from supervisor Corey Stewart, R-Occoquan, for an entirely new spending plan.
Stewart recommended that County Executive Craig Gerhart present supervisors with a new budget proposal — one that makes deeper spending cuts and further reduces the tax rate.
On Feb. 22, Gerhart presented supervisors a $732.1 million spending plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The proposal’s highlight is a 14.6-cent cut in the real estate tax rate, which is made possible by a 23-percent rise in average home values across the county.
Stewart said that extra income from record real estate assessments was masking an unnecessary 12.6-percent rise in spending for fiscal year 2006.
Stewart charged that the tax rate reduction does not go far enough, and actually amounts to a tax increase.
“Assessments are coming out soon and people are going to realize that despite the rate reduction, the average person is going to be hit with a 5.89 percent increase in their average tax bills,” Stewart said.
In 2005, the average residential assessment surged 22.9 percent, from $266,502 in 2004 to $326,800. Property owners pay $924 in real estate taxes for every 100,000 of assessed value. For the average home — now worth, $326,800 — this year’s tax bill will be $3,020, or $168 more than last year’s.
Stewart said he was also concerned that the county could be in for a shock if housing prices fall dramatically.
“When the good times end, we will have prepared ourselves well by restraining spending now, and limiting the growth of government now,” Stewart said.
The only response to Stewart’s suggestion was from Connaughton, who was largely dismissive.
“If you’d like to cut the road projects, then I think you have to pull that out,” Connaughton said.
Stewart’s exchange with Connaughton marked one of the few times the ongoing budget work sessions have strayed from a detailed and orderly budget discussion. At the sessions, department heads are given about 15 minutes to discuss the highlights of their spending requests for fiscal year 2006.
Budget work sessions will continue next Tuesday. Public hearings on the budget will be held on March 28 and 29, with final adoption scheduled for April 19.