Board Will Cut Taxes, Increase Funding in New Budget.
The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors is closing in on a fiscal year 2018 budget that will offer residents one of the largest year-over-year tax cuts in recent history while funding the vast majority of new budget proposals.
At its fifth and final budget session March 20, the board voted 6-3, along party lines, for a budget that lowers the real property tax rate from $1.145 for FY17 to $1.125 for FY18. The six Republicans voted the new budget while the three Democrats voted against it.
Buoyed by better-than-expected income projections, the county will make this cut while also funding nearly all of the$2.5 billion in spending initially proposed.
“I think this one is a big victory,” Vice Chairman Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn) said. “This one we really were able to accomplish a lot, really take care of some critical needs, fund almost everything- and cut taxes. How often do you get to say all of those things?”
County Administrator Tim Hemstreet initially proposed a $1.135 tax rate, which itself was a reduction from the FY17 budget. This “equalized” rate would’ve kept funding at the same level as last year while offering a reduction of about $50 on the $5,675 in taxes paid on a home valued at $500,000.
Several Republican Board members said the tax cuts will benefit county residents while simultaneously supporting an increase in county services. Buona said after years prioritizing money for one of the nation’s fast growing school districts, this years’s budget will fund much-needed increases in a wide rang of county services, including transportation and capital infrastructure as well as disability and family services.
“As your population grows, you either have to drop the level of service or bolster things up,” Buona said. This year I felt we finally made a sizable dent into what we, I won’t say overlooked, but almost by necessity couldn’t fund on the county side as we were catching up on the school side.”
Several Democrats disagreed, saying the budget didn’t go far enough to fund county services, particularly schools. Calling the $1.125 rate a “serious mistake,” Supervisor Kristen Umstattd (D-Leesburg) said it would hurt teacher salaries and overcrowding reduction efforts.
“There’s a whole litany of arguments against this grave reduction in what we’re proposing to send the schools,” Umstattd said.
The FY18 budget that calls for a nearly 8.5 percent funding increase from last year’s Loudoun County Public Schools budget, the largest year-over-year increase since the Great Recession. Superintendent Eric Williams had asked for a 9.1 percent increase, and the proposed budget give the school system $5.5 million, or a little less than one percent, off its total request. Several Republicans noted that the FY18 budget more than covered the costs of the’ 3.8 percent enrollment growth from last year, and would be a boost to ensure full-day kindergarten for more schools, dozens of new school buses, four new turf fields and teacher pay increases.
The Board likewise split 6-3 along party lines for a $1.5 million request from LCPS for text books from the county’s fund balance. Buona and several other Republicans said the school system has money to pay for textbooks and should incorporate books into its capital budget, not ask Supervisors for money for this purpose.
Chair Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) disagreed, saying she had been to Loudoun County classrooms where teachers used dilapidated history books that ended with the Sep. 11 terrorist attacks.
“It’s illogical not to give them money for books and digital items from fund balance, knowing in the past for diffenet reasons, the schools have not received the transfer they requested for years,” Randall said. “We know they’re behind. We’ve chastised them for that. This doesn’t change the tax rate. There’s no downside to doing this.”
Supervisor Tony Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) said he wouldn’t support Randall’s position because though there was money available in the fund balance this year, the Board would still have to make up the $1.5 million in future budgets.
Buona, serving his second four-year term on the board, said this was the best position the county had been in during his six years working on Loudoun’s budgets. He said economic development improvements pushed by the Board during his first term laid the groundwork for higher-than-expected revenue this year. Data centers alone generated $150 million in tax revenue last year compared to $25 million five years ago, he said.
“That’s major money coming in the doors that previously wasn’t coming in,” Buona said. “We’re now reaping the benefits of all the investments we made.”
The final, formal vote on the budget will come at the Board’s April 4 business meeting. The new fiscal year begins on July 1, 2017.