The Board of Supervisors voted narrowly Thursday night for a $1.145 real estate tax rate, one cent higher than the current rate.
The rate sends $694.8 million in local tax funding to the school board, leaving a $16.9 million shortfall in the school board’s adopted budget. Proponents say that more than meets the school system’s needs.
In previous meetings, supervisors had voted for budget items bringing the tax rate up to $1.14 per $100 of assessed value, leaving $3.9 million extra unallocated. Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) moved to send that unallocated money to the schools and bring the rate up another half penny.
“This is the sixth year in the row that the Board of Supervisors will have substantially increased the school budget significantly more than the growth enrollment,” Buona said. He argued the funding increase covers the cost of enrollment growth, the Academies of Loudoun program, plans to expand full-day kindergarten, and most of the school board’s proposals for raises.
However, as supervisors pointed out, how schools use their funding from the county is at the discretion of the School Board.
“People in the public out there need to understand, it’s literally like handing your kids the car keys, and you have no idea if your kid’s going over to their friend’s house to see a movie, or whether they’re going to the house party,” Supervisor Suzanne M. Volpe (R-Algonkian) said. She joined Supervisors Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin) and Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) in pointing out that for two years in the row, the board has provided funds to address a “sag” in the teacher salary pay scale. The “sag” refers to a lower pay scale for mid-career teachers in Loudoun when compared with other metropolitan Washington jurisdictions.
Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) and supervisors Koran T. Saines (R-Sterling) and Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg) argued for a higher tax rate to provide more money for schools. Randall referred to the number of people who came to the board asking for a fully funded school budget request. She dismissed the argument that these speakers represented special interests.
“I’m going to chose to believe that Loudoun County is full of people who are freethinking people who are not puppets, who are not minions, who understand money, who understand their own household budgets, and their own household taxes, and yet they still come year after year after year and they say, ‘fund the schools,’” Randall said.
Other supervisors took their election as a mandate to keep taxes down.
“Public input, as it happens here, is part of the process, but I think it’s a real big mistake for us to think it’s the only part,” Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) said.
“I know six of us on this board that ran on fiscal restraint, and the people that elected us expect us to show fiscal restraint,” Higgins said.
Nonetheless, Randall argued that she had heard the same message, asking for a fully funded budget request, outside the boardroom.
“I’m voting my conscience and my constituency,” she said three times during the debate.
Umstattd and Saines unsuccessfully proposed motions to raise the tax rate, and the conversation prompted Saines to quip at one point, “Feels like we’re on the campaign trail a little bit here.”
Only Higgins attempted a lower rate than Buona’s motion, $1.14, which he described as the equalized rate for homeowners, but his motion found no support.
Ultimately, Buona’s motion for a $1.145 tax rate passed 5-4, Supervisor Ron A. Meyer Jr. (R-Broad Run), Higgins, Umstattd, and Volpe opposed.
Higgins chastised dissenters who opposed the tax rate, but did not offer any alternatives.
“I have to question whether we’re sincere or posturing in positions we take,” Higgins said, adding he was “disappointed, however perhaps not surprised.”
The county staff will now prepare a budget document based on the board’s work over the past month. The board’s final vote on the budget and tax rate will be April 5.