Prince William County Supervisors Pass Flat FY19 Tax Rate

| April 25, 2018 | 0 Comments | News

The Prince William County Supervisors adopted the County Executive’s proposed tax rate of 1.125 for every $100 of assessed property value, Tuesday evening, an average property tax bill increase of $121.

The total budget is approximately $1.2 billion.

The 1.125 flat tax-rate has not decreased from the tax rate advertised, but there was an increase to the fire levy.

In FY19, the county tax rate will fully fund the school division’s budget. Supervisors kept the terms of the revenue sharing agreement that provides 57.23% to the schools and 42.77% to the county.

The budget maintained the $1 million matching grant to maintain class size reductions, and another $900,000 toward debt service associated with improving student capacity at the 13th high school.

Teachers will get their step increases as outlined in the School Board’s budget. They will not get an additional Cost of Living Increase in 2019, which was not included in that budget, but for which educators nonetheless hoped to secure funding.

The board also decided to begin a pilot program that would put armed retired police officers in the school for additional security, just five officers and one supervisor. The measure is mainly to protect against or respond to high alert incidents such school shootings.

High Schools and middle schools in the county already have armed SEO (School Enforcement Officers), one per school. Some are retired police or government law enforcement, such as secret service.

Chairman Corey Stewart (R) would like to continue to build upon the program until all schools have officers in them.

On the county side, the primary focus this year was on funding retention plans for first responders: police, sheriff’s office, detention center employees, firefighters and EMTs, in the name of public safety.

A study had found that Prince William was losing employees to neighboring jurisdictions and would need to offer more competitive pay.

In the case of the fire department, that agency can draw upon two taxing sources, general funds and the fire levy. This year, there was a need to staff two new ladder trucks and hire new managers in addition to funding Phase I of the retention plan.

The County Executive’s budget included a 0.0837 fire level. At that rate, it would have funded 33 new hires, including five upper-level positions at an additional cost of $25 per family.

According to the approved plan, which passed 5-3, the board will only be funding 19 new full-time positions. Hiring will be deferred until after July 1 when the fire chief can brief the supervisors on where they intend to make the cuts. The plan like cuts the five managerial positions.

Taxpayers will still see an approximate 4% increase in fire levy taxes, which should be less than $25.

Supervisors Jeanine Lawson (Brentsville-R), Ruth Anderson (Occoquan-R), Maureen Caddigan (Potomac-R), John Jenkins (Neabsco-D) and Marty Nohe (Coles-R) voted in favor of this proposal.

Those opposed were Chairman Corey Stewart (R), Pete Candland (Gainesville-R), and Frank Principi (Woodbridge-D).

Supervisor Lawson proposed the 0.08 rate, saying she wanted to be fiscally conservative on behalf of the taxpayers. Supervisor Ruth Anderson had previously said the same, especially because she did not want to hide taxes behind levees.

But there was disagreement.

County Executive Chris Martino advised against it, saying the new hires were “very much needed to move the system forward.”

“It seems reckless to me to simply cut five supervisors,” said Stewart. “County Executive and county staff thought these were necessary.”

The fire levy was actually the most contentious aspect of the discussions during the meeting. Several issues were at play. One was the need to increase in the fire levy, which would not be popular among residents.

In addition to monetary concerns, supervisors tried to address the disharmony between career and volunteer staffs who could not come together to provide a staffing recommendation in accordance with county policy.

Supervisor Anderson attributed that failure to a lack of leadership, but others felt the problem was with competing interests.

Principi wanted to bring the two parties together, but his proposal to approve the County Executive’s tax levy rate and make the parties work out the details. After his proposal failed, Supervisor Marty Nohe, changed his mind, agreed with Principi and brought the same proposal back to the table.

The proposal failed again after being reconsidered but failed a second time.

Concerns over the fire levy led Chairman Corey Stewart to reiterate the merits of his tax on the Programmable Computer and Peripheral equipment Business Tax. He was willing to amend the tax increase from 1.25% to 2.20%, saying it would still be half of Loudoun County’s 4.40% tax rate.

This would not only help with staffing on the fire department but could provide the schools with $4 million. This is still short of the $7 million needed to fund COLAs but could help with other needs.

Gainesville Supervisor Pete Candland supported Stewart’s proposal, but others felt it would hurt the business tax base in the long run.

Supervisors wanted to continue to promote business growth, making them hesitant about the tax plan.

But Stewart warned that if they could hardly agree on the fire levy this year, did anyone think they would really be able to raise it 14.4% next year, which is an election year? That tax increase it was the County Executive proposed to pay for phase II of the staffing and retention plan.

Lawson said she felt good that they were provided an additional $30 million to county schools. They did not know what kind of money they would get from the state.

The budget also includes an additional $800,000 to help develop a robust economy. Some of that money would be used to develop small business programs and to establish a cybersecurity partnership with the Northern Virginia Community College.

It also includes funding for  Transportation Roadway Improvement Program, or TRIP from recordation tax revenue designated for transportation. Each magisterial district is receiving $225,000 in TRIP funding to pay for small transportation projects.

The article has been updated with information on the school security program. 

© 2018, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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