Candland, Stewart Prepare to Battle over Advertised Tax Rate

| February 25, 2014 | 1 Comment | News

Gainesville Supervisor Peter Candland and Chairman At-large, Corey Student of Board of County Supervisors, clash over the advertised tax rate.

Chairman Corey Stewart and Gainesville Supervisor Pete Candland are calling each other’s presentation of tax plans to their constituents “disingenuous.”

On Feb. 23, Supervisor Pete Candland (R) of the Gainesville District sent out to his supporters an email entitled, “Do You Want a Tax Increase?” The email alleges that Chairman Stewart (R) plans on raising the tax bill 7.5 percent by adopting the FY (fiscal year) 2014 tax rate as the advertised tax rate for FY15. The effect of adopting the FY14 tax rate this coming year would essentially be a 7.5 percent tax increase since home assessments have risen on average 7.5 percent across the county.

Candland’s email said that Stewart’s proposed flat tax would “set the stage for the largest tax increase in the history of the county,” and that “[Stewart’s] tax increase would literally triple the amount that the Board agreed to last year.”

However, Stewart said it is not true, and that the problem with Candland’s email is that it does not distinguish between the advertised tax rate and the actual, or “adopted” tax rate.

He also takes offense to Candland’s email.

“I’m just so angry at him right now. It is totally misleading. The advertised rate is never the adopted rate. We always start with an advertised rate that is higher than the adopted,” Stewart told Bristow Beat in a phone interview Monday morning.

He wants to assure taxpayers that he is not planning a huge tax hike.

Raising taxes by 7.5 percent- “it’s not going to happen, and I won’t allow it to happen. It’s just a complete distortion,” Stewart said.

Chairman Stewart said he does not plan to greatly increase the tax bill for Prince William County residents. Rather, Stewart said he plans to keep the advertised tax rate as it was per FY 2014 only until the supervisors get a better picture of the funding they will receive from the state as well as a more accurate number on housing values.

The chairman explains the need to start with a higher tax rate is that it offers flexibility. According to state law, the advertised tax rate cannot be increased, but it can always be decreased.

“The reason you advertise the tax rate higher,” said Stewart, “is you don’t know a whole lot of information right now that we will know end of April [when the tax rate has to be adopted.]”

In the meantime, assessment values can change, and the supervisors will find out what kinds of funds to expect from Richmond. Currently, the General Assembly might vote to eliminate the cost-of-competing funds for Northern Virginia jurisdictions, which could eliminate $10 million from Prince William County Schools alone. Other revenue totals that are unknown to supervisors at this time include sales tax revenue and the BPOL (Business, Professional, Occupational, Licensing) tax.

Since Supervisor Candland has now been on the board two years, Stewart believes he understands the difference between the advertised and adopted tax rate, and should do a better job of clarifying that for his constituents.

“He’s making it sound like something it’s not. The ultimate tax bill will not rise by 7.5 percent, or anywhere close; they never have. Since I’ve been chairman, they’ve gone down significantly,” said Stewart.

Ann Wheeler (R), who ran against Candland for the position of County Supervisor, also shared her shock at Candland’s email in a letter to county supervisors, which she shared with Bristow Beat.

“I was initially horrified when I started to read Supervisor Candland’s tome on the proposed tax increase. Who wants a tax increase?” Wheeler wrote. “I was ultimately more horrified though, when I continued reading and realized just how misleading and disingenuous it was. I, personally, would not refer to any of the items that the county currently performs as ‘frivolous.’”

However, Candland, does not think a supervisor should propose an advertised tax rate that is nowhere near what the adopted tax rate would be.

“The reason you have an advertised tax rate is to give people an idea of where they are going to end up,” Candland said, speaking with Bristow Beat Monday afternoon, and he assumed that Stewart was doing the same when he proposed an advertised tax rate.

“I would assume that it is somewhere in the ball park of where he wants to end up. It doesn’t do any good to advertise the tax rate that’s not going to be realistic to what we’re going to end up doing” Candland said.

The Gainesville Supervisor said if that is not the case, then maybe Stewart is utilizing a strategy in which supervisors can begin with an advertised tax rate that yields a high tax bill, and then “look great,” to taxpayers once they reduce it. Candland rejects this strategy, saying it is not transparent.

However, Stewart took further issue with Candland’s email saying it claims that Prince William has the highest tax rate in the region without mentioning that Prince William County has one of the lowest tax bills in the region.

“You have to talk about bills,” said Stewart. “Our tax bills are a lot lower than the rest of the region. The average tax bill in Prince William County is $3,392, in Loudoun County it’s $4,961 and in Fairfax it’s $4,913.”

That’s not to say that Stewart does not want to add some new spending initiatives to the County Executive’s budget, which was proposed at a 2.5 percent tax bill increase. He is just not willing to do so at the cost of a 7.5 percent tax increase or anything close to that amount.

Stewart shared some of his budget priorities. They include reducing class sizes, which are the highest in the state, and increasing funding for fire and police, because he said crime is “edging up” and fire response times are up as well, especially in western Prince William County.

But Candland questioned why Stewart wrote to parents, who have their children in Prince William youth sports leagues, inviting them to attend the BOCS Feb. 25 meeting in order to ask the supervisors to fund new parks and fields. He believes it was disingenuous of the Chairman to tell those parents he is looking to keep FY14 tax rates, while not explaining this would result in a large tax hike due to rising assessments. Even if Stewart did not plan on making that flat tax rate the new tax rate for the county, Candland thinks those letters were misleading.

“[Citizens are] confusing this flat tax rate, thinking that their taxes won’t change,” Candland said. “They’re buying into this idea that their taxes won’t go up.”

Candland said he has no problem with citizens asking the supervisors to fund projects they feel strong about, but they should understand that they are actually asking for higher taxes.

The two supervisors are also squabbling over the spending priorities.

Stewart said supports his plan for parks and fields, said if Candland really wants to keep taxes low, he should first look to where the Gainesville District can limit its new amenities.

“He wants everything for his district. A huge portion of the new funding this year is according in his district, including $25 million for the Gainesville library plus $5 million per year to operate and pay the debt service [on the library].”

In comparison, Stewart said the countywide park bond he is advocating for is $13.5 and $1.3 million to finance and would benefit the entire county.

Stewart said that the park bond would benefit baseball fields in Nokesville and upkeep at other fields that would help sports leagues on both sides of the county. He hopes to fund these initiatives while keeping taxes as low as possible.

Candland said the people of Gainesville are tired of “those kind of threats” that they will not get their libraries or their parks. For his part, he believes they can fund parks, the new library and even find money for schools within the 2.5 percent tax bill increase that the County Executive presented on last week.

“Right now, that’s the most reasonable proposal. It’s still a tax increases, and it’s a larger increase than we approved last year. I wish we weren’t talking about increases at all, but I feel more comfortable at 2.5 percent than 7.5 percent.”

© 2014, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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  1. epage20169 says:

    Corey Stewart is accusing Candland of misleading whilst misleading us himself.
    He is mixing advertised rate and tax due whilst telling La Cross teams and others that their taxes will not go up.
    Even if the final tax rate stays where it is now, your taxes will go up because the assessed value has gone up.

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