The Prince William Board of County Supervisors voted on party lines Tuesday to advertise local tax rates that, if adopted, will increase tax bills for county homeowners and data center users and create a new cigarette tax.
The advertised tax rate is a “ceiling” on the proposed tax rates that the board can consider. After advertising the tax rates, the board can choose to lower them before adopting their 2022 budget in April, but they cannot raise them higher.
The board voted 5-3 to advertise tax rates reflecting the rates proposed in County Executive Chris Martino’s fiscal year 2022 budget, which begins July 1, with the board’s five Democratic supervisors voting in favor and three Republicans voting against.
The rates include a real estate tax rate of $1.125 per $100 in assessed value that would keep the tax rate at its current level but would still add $306 to the average annual residential tax bill because of rising assessments; a hike in the in the business tangible computer and peripheral tax, also known as the data center tax, from $1.35 to $1.60 per $100 in assessed value; and a new, 30-cent-per-pack cigarette tax.
The tax rates, as advertised, would support Martino’s $1.35 billion proposed budget, a $60 million increase over this year's budget. The budget would increase spending for, among other things, six new police positions and 14 fire and rescue positions. It also boosts funding for the county’s social services and community services departments.
The proposed spending plan would also fund 3% pay raises for county employees, an initiative that was cut from last year’s budget as a result of economic impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The board’s three Republicans advocated for advertising a lower real estate tax rate of $1.052 per $100 in assessed value that would result in tax bills remaining at their current level. The proposal would reduce the size of the county executive’s proposed budget by $51 million but would still result in an $8.9 million increase over last year's budget, according to county Budget Director David Sinclair.
Supervisor Yesli Vega, R-Coles, brought the “flat tax bill” proposal to a vote, but it was killed along party lines by the board’s Democratic majority.
Republicans on the board pointed to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, including increased unemployment in the county and a huge uptick in the number of county residents seeking government assistance, as reasons to reduce the size of the overall budget and alleviate some of the burden on county taxpayers. But, so far, none has addressed where the cuts to the proposed budget would come from.
“This budget is so tone deaf to what is happening in our economy right now,” said Supervisor Pete Candland, R-Gainesville.
Democrats on the board rejected attempts to advertise a lower real estate tax rate. Several noted that the advertised rate only sets a “ceiling” on the tax rates that could be considered by the board and that they can choose to reduce the tax rates before adopting a budget. Others raised concerns that lowering the tax rates would result in cuts to the proposed budget, including lowering the amount that is proposed to be shared with county schools under the county’s revenue sharing agreement.
The county’s revenue sharing agreement traditionally directs 57.23% of the county’s local, general fund tax revenue to schools. The proposed 2022 budget would increase the amount sent to the county school system by $34.6 million, a 5.5% increase over last year’s budget.
“As we talk about these lower tax rates for residential real estate, please come at us with programs you want to cut or other ways to raise the revenue. Because, frankly, there is a lot of stuff in this budget we should be funding,” said Supervisor Kenny Boddye, D-Occoquan.
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