Editor: The annual rite of budget and tax setting in Loudoun and its towns as well as the rest of the commonwealth has begun.
Some counties, like Fairfax, have required property tax bills to be paid once a year in December, which means their board of supervisors and towns like Vienna and Herndon have until June to review and adopt a budget and property tax rate.
But because Loudoun County decided about 20 years ago to allow residents to pay their tax bills twice a year (half in early June, and the rest in December), the Board of Supervisors, School Board and various town councils have only until early April to set a tax rate and adopt a budget. Under state law, property tax owners must be given 30 days to pay their bills, so the Loudoun and town property tax bills usually hit folks’ mailboxes in early May to pay by the first week of June (first week of December for the second half of the bills, unless one’s mortgage company escrows and pays the taxes).
This means the School Board has but five weeks to review its budget. The county administrator has to devise a county budget in mid-to-late February without knowing what the capital improvement program or school operating budget looks like. Then, once he introduces his budget, the Board of Supervisors spends almost every night in March looking at the budget in order to set a tax rate and adopt its budget at its first meeting in April. In addition, the state budget, which was only announced last month, is not going to be finalized more likely until April with a special session.
The towns of Loudoun undergo the same compressed timeframe, although in my experience serving on the Leesburg Town Council for five years, few of its members even bother to review the budget or ask serious questions.
Given the growth in Loudoun’s population and complexity of its finances, and uncertainty about the two year state budget, would it not be good for the Supervisors and School Board to have a little more time to review its budget and tax rate?
What I am proposing is that the Board of Supervisors discuss with County Treasurer Roger Zurn the feasibility of delaying the due date for property taxes to the third week in June, thereby giving the School Board, Supervisors and the town councils in Loudoun up to two more weeks to review the budget and adopt a tax rate. Before I left the Board of Supervisors in 2015, I had a conversation with Mr. Zurn about this and recall he said it was feasible as long as the deadline was a week before the start of the new fiscal year (which is July 1) so some tax revenue was in the coffers.
I believe this change still gives the various finance departments and county treasurer time to process and mail the bills to give property owners the requisite 30 days’ notice. It does not change the timetable for tax assessments and appeals. It keeps the early December deadline for the 2nd half of taxes due.
Most important, it gives our county and town administrators and elected leaders more time and less rush to get a budget and tax rate done with more time to discuss and scrutinize. It also means the supervisors and councilmembers need not spend March spring break reviewing budgets each night. They can take off a few days and discuss matters with their colleagues. This proposed timetable also provides more certainty about the school and state budget picture.
Given the complexity of the budgets each year, I think this is something the board and treasurer should consider.
Ken Reid, Leesburg
[The writer is a former member of the Leesburg Town Council and the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors.]