Supervisors Trade Insults Over Setting Tax Budget Guidelines for Staff Presentation

| December 11, 2013 | 0 Comments | News

Peter Candland at the Dec. 10, 2013 Prince William Board of County Supervisors Meeting.

Chairman Corey Stewart-R and Gainesville District Supervisor Pete Candland-R clashed over whether a 2.5 percent increase in the tax bill is realist to meet all county needs and ended up trading insults at the Dec. 10 Prince William Board of County Supervisors meeting.

“Basically you’re acting like a charlatan; it’s snake oil,” Stewart said.

“With all due respect, you’ve been acting like a charlatan for the past six years,” Candland responded.

The two Republican Prince William elected officials differed on how realistic a 2.5 percent tax bill increase was. Stewart described it as a “barebones” starting point, and Candland said it was realistic though it would force supervisors to set their priorities. In the end, both legislators ultimately voted the same way: that staff be instructed to present a budget set at a 2.5 increase in the average tax bill. That motion passed passed 6-2.

Before discussing the budget, Candland presented a plan to restore 57.23 percent  (the same percentile as the revenue sharing agreement) of the recordation tax, a tax on the sale or transfer of properties and deeds within the county. Before 2006, when the county faced a crisis funding new roads, the School Division did receive more than half of funds produced through the recordation tax. Candland recommended the supervisors also provide 25 percent of that tax to emergency response services.

However, that plan became almost unworkable, because the recordation tax is currently being spent on debt services from prior transportation projects. The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission [NVTC]  prohibits jurisdictions from spending less on transportation than they did in the previous year, lest they face a penalty, and also prohibits new transportation dollars be used to pay back transportation debt services. Therefore, using the recordation tax for other purposes would mean finding $3-5 million for the transportation debt service every year.

This left Candland without a clear-cut solution on how to provide the school and emergency personnel with the additional funds they require annually beyond what is generated by the 2.5 percent tax bill increase.

Then it became time to support a motion to guide the county staff on how to prepare their budget presentation. This budget would not be the tax bill, or even the advertised tax bill, but just a baseline from which the Supervisors would begin looking to set the county tax bill. As such, the first motion, made by Occoquan’s Michael May-R, asked that the guideline budget begin at a 2.5 percent tax bill increase as called for in the 5-year plan.

However, Frank Principi-D from the Woodbridge District thought that in order to meet unmet needs of new teachers, police and fire & rescue personnel the board should do something “bold” and instruct the staff to look at a 3 percent tax bill increase instead. John Jenkins-D from the Neabsco District agreed with Principi.

Stewart explained it was a “barebones” guideline, and could be adjusted at a later time. He also said the supervisors are not rejecting hiring critical county staff.

“I want to make sure the message that is not sent is the board is not rejecting the School’s class size reduction plan. The board is not saying that it does not want to accept the public safety staffing needs. The board is not saying today that we’re not going to address the 2006 park bond that the voters approved. The board is not saying that we are not going to address the other needs,” Stewart said.

Principi, who offered a substitute motion at this juncture, however, said he suspected that the guideline budget would turn into the advertised tax bill, which would then turn into the tax bill. Expecting this progression, he asked where the new funds for schools, police, fire, rescue and possibly parks would come from.

Stewart agreed that the 2.5 percent proposal was “unrealistic,” to fund all these needs, but none-the-less defended the 2.5 percent tax bill increase as an adequate starting point.

“By giving essentially unrealistic guidance, we’re simply pushing the debate about the budget process further down the road,” Stewart said. “That’s the way it is; that is what the board is going to do today.”

But Candland took offense to the Chairman calling the 2.5 percent tax bill increase “unrealistic,” arguing that it was this board’s “spending policies over the last ten years,” that had led to the highest class sizes in the Commonwealth.

Stewart said that class sizes were too high, exactly because the county has kept the “lowest average tax bill” in the region. He also said, talking over Candland, that you can’t keep taxes low and also give citizens all the treats they wanted.

Candland continued, “When you say 2.5 percent is impossible, that is absolutely untrue. You might not like the choices that are presented to you.” When Stewart tried to interject again, Candland said, “I know you’re just frothing at the mouth to raise taxes here.”

“No, Mr. Candland,” Stewart said. “The difference is I’m honest; you’re not.”

Marti Nohe-R, Supervisor for the Coles District, broke up the quarrel, telling the supervisors they had some great stuff for the blogs but it was time to move on to a vote.

Brentsville District Supervisor, Wally Covington-R, said he thinks it’s important that the budget works on both ends, still asking that the School Division adopt a zero-based budget and looking to see where volunteers could fill in with emergency responders.

Maureen Caddigan-R of the Potomac District pointed out that while she voted for more teachers and public safety personnel last year, other supervisors did not.

“So, we’re playing a different game this year,” she said.

When they voted on the motion, the substitute motion for a 3 percent tax bill increase budget based presentation failed with only Principi and Jenkins voting for it. The 2.5 percent tax bill increase budget then passed with the approval of all supervisors except Principi and Jenkins.






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