Stewart Talks Taxes, Schools, Development: ‘I Am Not Proposing an Increase in Taxes.’

| December 17, 2014 | 0 Comments | News
Chairman at-Large Corey Stewart thinks the theatre is a great new amenity that will add to the community.

Chairman at-Large Corey Stewart at the opening of the new Regal Cinema in Gainesville. Stewart said he is an advocate of new upscale shopping, restaurants and entertainment.

“Inside Nova got that story completely wrong. I’m not proposing an increase in taxes,” Chairman Corey Stewart told Bristow Beat Tuesday.*

When Stewart addressed a joint meeting of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors and School Board last Tuesday evening, he wanted to work with both boards to solve the revenue problem, focusing on the fact that the School Board never knows what to expect from the Board of County Supervisors in a given year.

Understanding the Five-Year Plan

The BOCS creates a five-year revenue and tax plan that was meant to ensure funding to the School Division in accordance with the revenue sharing agreement between the two boards. The plan ought to create certainty since it allows the school division to know what revenue they will receive before staff crafts their budget. However, the BOCS rarely, if ever, stuck to the five-year plan, creating uncertainty in the school budget.

The problem is that once county staff presents the five-year plan, with its tax increases from the previous year, board members see it as a starting point. Obviously, it looks great to residents when supervisors can show them in simple numbers how they saved them money.

However, Stewart believes there are ways to cut taxes and ensure the school division receives the percentage of the budget it has anticipated. The board can continue to propose tax reductions, since, according to Stewart, the five-year plan is an incomplete picture.

“It doesn’t account for commercial tax base, BPOL (Business, Professional, Occupational Licenses) and sales tax,” Stewart said, explaining that when those other forms of tax revenue are included, the pot increases.

Stewart believes that going forward the BOCS should provide the school division with at least what they had promised in the five-year plan. Then, if the board chooses to decrease property taxes, other forms of taxation can fill in the gaps. This way, the schools do not lose money.

“At end of the day, this should actually be tax neutral,” he said. “It’s about the way we plan.”

Stewart believes this new plan will allow the school division to spend money where it is most needed, such as hiring teachers, which high level superintendents and School Board members are often reluctant to do with one-time funds.

The Chairman explained that it had been under his direction that his board began to focus more on the tax bill than on revenue. He said that was in response to ever-increasing taxes, but now the paradigm has shifted.

“We’ve conquered that problem over the last seven to eight years,” Stewart said.

Addressing Commercial & Residential Development

The belief that Stewart was proposing an increase in property taxes brought criticism of his tax plan.

Particularly, Ralph Stephenson of Prince William Residents for Balance Growth, criticized Stewart for approving tax-negative growth. He means that new development costs more than the revenue it brings in and leaves the county with a deficit.

Read Stephenson’s critique of tax-negative growth here.

Stewart took the criticism in stride.

“I do respect [Ralph Stevenson.] He cares about the community,” Stewart said.

However, Stewart also defended his position on development. He said that while it would be ideal to move away from residential development and towards commercial development, the market just will not support it. In today’s market, fewer people are working out of offices and more are telecommuting, working from home or meeting in public places like coffee shops, he explained.

In the place of providing commercial spaces, the county has instead focused on bringing in high-end retail and high-end restaurants that also provide great tax revenue for the county.

Stewart also explained it is important to approve the kind of residential development people want to see and which offers generous proffers to the community. To not accept these developments can mean the county will get stuck with by-right development. Often, by-right development is “ugly” and not in the direction people want see the county develop, Stewart explained.

Because of by-right concerns, Stewart said he supports the Stone Haven development. He said he opposed it in its last incarnation when it would bring 6,800 homes, but the current proposal is just 1,650 homes and includes the biggest proffer package the county has ever seen.

Plus, he understands it would be devastating for the schools to not receive the $15-20 million school site for Prince William’s 13th high school. The school is not set to open until 2019 even though it is desperately needed now.

Stewart explains that the school will hold 2,100 students and only 300 are projected to come from the new development. However, without that proffered site, the school division estimates the school will not be built until 2021. By that time, there will be a proliferation of trailers outside local high schools.

Read Ralph Stephenson’s letter to Corey Stewart and other board members here.

*Bristow Beat did not attend the joint meeting of the Board of County Supervisiors and the School Board so we cannot accurately judge whether Stewart’s statements were taken out of context. 

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