Forty-five people stepped up to the podium to be heard by the Board of Supervisors on Thursday, and not one of them asked to keep the real estate tax rate down.
The vast majority of speakers had come to ask the board, for one reason or another, to fully fund the school and county budgets. Some had rallied behind what has come to be called turf equity, or putting artificial turf athletic fields at the four Loudoun high schools that do not have them. Others defended what they called the School Board’s “needs-based budget.” But the unifying theme was clear.
“We are begging you to raise the tax rate to $1.17,” said Patti Nelson, chair of the Loudoun chapter of the Service Employees International Union.
County Administrator Tim Hemstreet has projected that maintaining the county’s level of service and fully funding the school board’s budget request will require an increase in the county’s real estate tax rate. Currently, that rate is $1.135 per $100 of assessed value; Hemstreet said fully funding the school budget will require a rate of $1.17.
Most of the speakers came as part of organized groups. SEIU members came in their signature matching purple. Students, parents, and school employees came with signs asking for turf equity.
“It’s an investment,” said Marlene Barney. “It’s not a tax increase.”
“An equalized tax rate is very good if you’re not growing,” said Joey Matthews, president of the Loudoun Education Association. “Equal does not mean larger, equal does not mean smaller, equal means it stays the same. Our school system is not staying the same.”
“I moved to Loudoun County specifically for the schools, to raise my family, because I had an 18-month-old,” Ryan Myers said. “I didn’t move and rent. I moved and bought a home. I just want you guys not to mess with my investment.”
“I’m willing to pay $1.17 per $100, which equals to one McDonald’s Big Mac per month,” Pam Lewis said.
Although schools dominated the discussion, other county services also spoke up.
“If you had a severe mental illness, that kept you from functioning normally, would you like to be told that there’s a waiting list of several months because the Board of Supervisors did not want to raise the tax rate?” asked Beth Newberry, a retired Loudoun Department of Mental Health, Substance Abuse and Developmental Services psychiatric nurse, SEIU member, and grandmother of LCPS students. “If you’re a parent, do you want to hear that the county cannot afford to meet the needs of the children in the schools?”
The Loudoun County Democratic Committee and Supervisor Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg) have also put their weight behind the school budget. A robocall paid for by the LCDC and featuring Umstattd went out in advance of the meeting urging residents to come to the meeting and ask the board to fully fund the school budget.
Supervisors will meet with the School Board tonight for a second round of discussions on the budget. A tax rate and budget adoption vote is scheduled for April 5.