Real estate tumble could force tax increase

Prince William supervisors learned Thursday that they’ll have to raise the tax rate several times if they want to keep the county flush over the next five years.

Real estate values that are down by 14 percent will force their hands.

The current tax rate is 78.7 cents per $100 of assessed value.

At that rate, the county would come up $51.7 million short in fiscal 2009, $79.5 million short in fiscal 2010 and $108 million short in fiscal 2011, according to information county finance director Christopher Martino presented to the board of supervisors at the annual budget retreat.

Projections show that raising the tax rate to 91.5 cents in fiscal 2009 will balance the budget and leave the average tax bill about the same.

In 2010, the tax rate will have to be raised to 99.5 cents and in 2011 it will take a tax rate of $1.03 to keep the budget balanced while leaving the tax bill the same, Martino said.

Steadily decreasing home values are not likely to recover any time soon and there are a lot of houses that aren’t selling.

“It’s going to take quite some time to work off that inventory,” Martino said.

While Martino stopped short of predicting a recession, he said the real estate market will remain below average for the next three to four years.

“It will be a very long period of time before our values recover,” he said.

During last year’s round of cuts to balance the budget, the county delayed building a fire station in the mid-county area and a central district police station, as well as an expansion at the Public Safety Training Center among other things.

Gerhart said that can’t continue to happen.

“We don’t think we can not add fire staff, not open the fire stations, have our police and fire folks start going out the door because of compensation differences with the rest of Northern Virginia,” Gerhart said

The county also eliminated renovations at Pfitzner Stadium and an expansion at Forest Greens Golf Course.

The cuts also included the elimination to some social services, contributions to the Virginia Railway Express and the Potomac Rappahannock Transportation Commission reserves and the police take-home car program.

Gerhart said there’s not much left to cut.

But if cuts are to come, they would have to come from layoffs in the county executive’s, the registrar’s and county attorney’s offices as well as the planning, social services, human rights, economic development and public works departments.