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Prince William BOCS Adopts Flat Tax Rate, but Tax Bills Will Increase

| April 29, 2020 | 0 Comments | News

Prince William Board of County Supervisors.

Although the 2020-21 tax rate will remain the same as in fiscal year 2020, residents will receive a higher property tax bill during the COVID-19 health and economic crisis.

In a 5-3 vote, along party lines, the Prince William County Board of Supervisors adopted the 1.125 property tax-rate for every $100 of assessed residential home and property value. They also approved increases to other property taxes to help boost revenue.

Real Estate Taxes

Chair Ann Wheeler (D-At-large), Kenny Boddye (D-Occoquan), Andrea Bailey (D-Potomac), Margaret Franklin (D-Woodbridge) and Victor Angry (D-Neabsco) voted “aye.” Jeanine Lawson (R-Brentsville), Pete Candland (R-Gainesville) and Yesli Vega (R-Coles) voted “nay”

Democrats on the board agreed to the “tax increases,” while the Republicans opposed, saying it is not the right time when thousands of residents are now out of work.

Democrats said they would prioritize vulnerable populations during COVID-19 but scaled back taxes as well because they are sympathetic to residents who are struggling.

“The budget we adopted tonight provides a solid foundation for our county. While not as ambitious as we originally planned, it was thoughtfully re-worked in response to the impact of the pandemic. Just as families and small businesses have reshaped their budgets and routines, so must we,” said Wheeler.

Tax Increases

The board increased the county vehicle tax from $24 to $33 for all cars and trucks and $12 to $20 for motorcycles.

The supervisors also approved an increase in the computer and peripheral tax rate from $1.25 to $1.35 for $100 of assessed value. This tax predominantly affects data centers.

The board approved the usual revenue-sharing agreement in which the school division receives 57.23% of the general budget. The vote also signaled approval of the school board’s designated spending of their side of the budget.

Candland, along with Lawson and Vega, objected to any and all tax increases.

“Since April 1st, the Virginia Employment Commission reports 26,474 Prince William County workers filed for unemployment,” stated Candland prior to the vote.

“Thousands of families are out of work already, having to rely on far less than they made while employed, and no one can honestly say they know things will return to normal soon!”

Commentary on the School Budget

Supervisor Lawson noted that while the school division’s budget has a lot of things she liked, she found it too top-heavy with 26 new positions at the Kelly Leadership Center.

While knocking on doors she said she never had a teacher tell her they, “need more support from the KLC.”

She said it is not focused enough on funding for the classrooms, such as decreasing class sizes. “It is a disservice to the students and the teachers.”

Boddye said he understands those concerns but he is supportive of other great things in the budget. The supervisors agreed that they need to have a joint board meeting when possible.

The school board will have to make cuts to its budget and is awaiting funding information from the state government.

Board Funding

Despite restrictions, the board added almost $4 million in local funding for community resources during the pandemic.

Funding for social services includes:

  • $500,000 for homeless services,
  • $300,000 for child and adult protective services,
  • $225,000 for social services to process benefit eligibility applications
  • $120,000 to support the county’s new food warehouse and community food $350,000 to supplement public health nurse salaries,
  • $177,000 for Project Lifesaver in the Sheriff’s Department
  • $100,000 for a new assessment program to assist high-risk domestic violence victims.
    $125,000 in seed money to create a child advocacy center,
  • $900,000 for a new program pairing police officers with behavioral health therapists
  • $400,000 to continue the peer outreach for opioid response program,
  • $290,000 for intellectual disabilities program,
  • $320,000 for early intervention programs and
  • $200,000 for intensive in-home youth services,
  • $75,000 for the New Horizons substance abuse program,
  • and $500,000 from residential proffers to go towards affordable housing.

“Yet even without a rate increase, the budget will still provide key goods and services to our community during this crisis. It increases funding for our schools and critical human services so those hit the hardest have somewhere to turn,” Wheeler said in a statement Wednesday.

“During a time of crisis, government has a duty to rise to, rather than retreat from, the people who elected us to lead. This is why we have put in place a strong COVID-19 response program.”

Makeup of Board

In November, four new Democrats and one new Republican were elected to the board. They would join two veteran Republicans and one Democrat newly elected in a special elected. That shifted the board, making it largely controlled by newly elected Democrats.

The new board went into budget season during a robust economy and hoped this would be a year to fulfill many unmet needs and desires, such as competitive pay scales for employees, which were still catching up from 2008 recession.

Changing Budget Goals and Expectation

In February, the board considered increasing the tax rate to $1.145 for every $100 in assessed value. That would amount to a $242 average tax increase for Prince William property owners. The total county revenue would have amounted to $1.3 million under this plan.

Due to the COVID-19 crisis, County Executive Chris Martino reported that the county would receive nearly $30 million less than expected even under the higher tax rate and with increasing property value.

Then, the board considered whether it was the right time to raise tax rates when so many people have been hard hit economically.

On April 15, when it was clear that COVID-19 had disrupted the economy, Martino presented a modified plan at the $1.125 tax rate as requested by the Chair. The new total budget of $1.09 billion would require significant cuts.

But Republicans argued it did not go far enough. The average tax bill would still be increased by approximately $165 annually.

“Today’s COVID 19 crisis is different, and possibly more damaging than the Great Recession, as individuals, families, and businesses fear physical as well as financial health,” said Lawson in a statement prior to the board vote. “Why would we as elected officials inflict additional stress on family budgets by raising taxes? Just as families and businesses are taking a serious look at their expenditures, deciding between wants and needs, so must Prince William County Supervisors.”

COVID-19 Unmet Needs

Martino explained COVID-19 brought new priorities, such as increasing staff and competitive pay for nurses working at the Prince William Health Department, providing housing for the homeless population and community service programs for vulnerable residents.

Martino proposed $18 million in reductions by eliminating pay-raises for all county employees and postponing phase II of the compensation adjustment plan to instead take effect until Jan. 1.

The board ultimately included a 2% adjustment plan starting July 1. This was a reduction from the originally proposed 3% increase.
“The budget includes a previously approved salary adjustment for some county workers who deliver these human services that contribute to the fabric of this community,” said Wheeler. “Prince William has long lagged behind our neighbors in Northern Virginia in terms of fair compensation. We are not competitive by any measure. If we want Prince William to be a strong community where people choose to live, then we have to attract and retain the best talent.”

They prioritized hiring additional nurses for the Prince William Health Department. They decided to create a small business loan program but only at this time, using money $1 million small business relief funded, mainly drawing from money already budgeted for the Economic Development Plan.

The board further allowed for 45-days of early voting.

“A locality’s budget is a statement of its values and priorities, and the majority of this Board has made our values clear: We see that this crisis is increasing the need for safety net services, and will not abide cuts to the programs that can help people survive this health and economic crisis,” Boddye said.

© 2020, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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