County Administrator Tim Hemstreet has his marching orders for fiscal year 2017 budget, which indicate Loudoun property owners would not see much change in the county tax rate or in their tax bills. However, that plan would leave the schools $39.5 million short of the superintendent’s request.
The new Board of Supervisors last week voted unanimously to direct Hemstreet to prepare two budget scenarios—one based on the current real property tax rate, $1.135 per $100 in assessed value, and another based on an equalized tax rate of $1.130, which would keep real estate tax bills level for the average Loudoun homeowner even though overall assessed values have gone up slightly.
The equalized tax rate is based on an average of all property values in the county. Individual real property owners will see their tax bill change depending on how their property value is assessed from year to year.
“Even with the equalized tax rate that’s a little bit lower than the same tax rate we have, people in Broad Run District will largely still see a tax increase,” Supervisor Ron Meyer (R-Broad Run) said. “Obviously, we’re all going to be having to sacrifice a little bit, because the budget projections look absolutely terrible.”
Supervisor Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin) agreed.
“I live in western Loudoun, and I haven’t seen my taxes go down,” Higgins said. “They’ve gone steadily up. And so I think that the equalized tax rate is just that, it’s basically the average, and I think that’s a good starting point.”
Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) said creating a budget with both figures gives the county options in terms of which projects to undertake with extra revenues, and which programs to slash in case of a shortfall.
“With a budget at the equalized tax rate, what we’ll get from [Hemstreet] is options,” Letourneau said. “And in the past, at least, that’s what we’ve wanted.”
However, supervisors will likely get some push back.
Even if they adopt a budget at the current tax rate, it would leave the spending plan drawn up by Loudoun Schools Superintendent Eric Williams $34.8 million short. Williams is proposing a budget of $1.07 billion, $86.7 million more than the current fiscal year.
But, it could have been worse.
In October, Williams predicted the 88-school division would need a total budget increase of as much as $95.4 million, and get just $13.8 million more in state funding. That would have left the county taxpayers shouldering $81.6 million in new funding for schools. Instead, the budget Williams presented Jan. 7 would require $58.3 million in new local funding, aided in part by a revised estimate of $26.1 million in new state funding and by a lower total budget increase of $84.4 million.
That budget, like the one the county administrator will introduce Feb. 10, is not final—it’s a starting place. Each board will then hash out the details.