Loudoun County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) was the first supervisor to take the leap:
“For me to vote for an equalized tax rate, that would be irresponsible, when we know the needs,” Randall said. “We know the needs, we know we have overcrowded schools.”
She referred to Loudoun’s real estate tax rate, which County Administrator Tim Hemstreet has said the county must raise to be able to maintain its current level of service. Hemstreet recommended raising the tax rate, currently $1.135 per $100 of assessed value, to $1.14. He also provided supervisors an option of $1.15 that would send more money to schools. To totally fund the county budget and the School board’s request, county staff calculated, the rate would have to climb to $1.17.
Randall agreed with Hemstreet that protecting county staffing is the first priority.
“I think protecting the salaries for the staff is incredibly important, and I was very clear that I would do nothing to lower that,” Randall said. However, she added, she would like to consider reevaluating the county’s pay-for-performance system, which gives employees annual raises based on job performance evaluations.
Randall also said bringing down classroom overcrowding is her first priority in tackling the School Board’s requested budget. Class size, she said, is an important indicator of student performance.
“It’s more informed from me being a mother, and being a room mom, and you see what the teachers have to deal with,” Randall said.
Other supervisors have hesitated to speculate on next year’s tax rate. Finance committee Chairman Supervisor Mat Letourneau (R-Dulles) said the supervisors must start with the county’s needs, and figure out the tax rate from there.
“It’s a bad practice to begin your budget discussion with a particular tax rate in mind,” Letourneau said. “I think you have to look at what the county’s needs are, what the schools’ needs are.”
Supervisor Koran Saines (D-Sterling), who also serves on the finance committee with Randall and Letourneau, agreed with Hemstreet that the county government must protect its employees. His priority is to make sure county employees don’t lose jobs or hours, and he said that county departments would have to distinguish between wants and needs.
“Nobody wants to see a tax increase,” Saines said, “but at the same time, if we’re looking to improve our service, we have to take a hard look and make good decisions that are going to benefit the majority of the people in the county.”