City of Manassas Town Hall sign

City of Manassas Town Hall

The Manassas City Council passed a $271.6 million budget for fiscal year 2023 this week that will result in an average $234 increase in real estate tax bills for city homeowners next year.

The council reduced the existing real estate tax rate by 8.7 cents from $1.222 to $1.135 per $100 in assessed value and kept the city’s personal property and fire and rescue tax rates unchanged. The combined real estate tax and fire and rescue levy total $1.342 per $100 in assessed value. The tax bill increase is the result of rising property values.

The budget includes 5% raises for both city staff and teachers and staff at Manassas City schools. 

During the Monday, May 9 meeting, the council passed seven ordinances and three resolutions presented by finance director Diane Bergeron to formally adopt the 2023 budget. There were no surprises -- the council had previously held seven budget work sessions and one public hearing to make the economic decisions needed for the operation and administration of the city during fiscal year 2023, which begins July 1.

Without discussion, the council passed the new property tax rate along party lines, with the four Democrats voting yes and the two Republicans voting no.

During preliminary discussions at an April 27 budget work session, Council member Theresa Coates Ellis (R) had advocated for cutting the real estate tax rate to an overall rate of $1.307, an amount she said would keep tax bills flat. But her proposal was voted down in a straw vote.

In an email to the Prince William Times, City Manager W. Patrick Pate explained that under the new rate, the average residential property owner can expect a $234 annual increase in their real estate tax bill while the average non-residential property owner will see a $465 reduction. The real estate tax revenue is expected to rise 2.65% overall, Pate said.

With regard to the personal property tax, or the tax paid on vehicles, the council voted on party lines to maintain the current rate of $3.60 per $100 in valuation. Because of the rise in used car values, retaining the current rate is estimated to raise an additional $1.8 million. The average value of a vehicle in the City of Manassas is $9,200, and the median value $5,930, Pate said. 

Vice Mayor Pamela Sebesky (D) pointed out that the Manassas City has the second-lowest personal property tax rate in Northern Virginia next to Manassas Park. But Ellis said she could not vote for the personal property tax rate because of the “$1.8 million excess.”

Mayor Michelle Davis-Younger (D) asked Pate for clarification on the use of the $1.8 million, and he explained that it would be used to offset the reduction in the real estate tax rate and will not increase the budget. 

“We’re estimating $1.8 million in additional personal property tax revenue. But the [real estate] tax rates you just adopted took out 3 cents or roughly $1.8 million out of the budget. So we’re not increasing the budget at all, based on this. Basically we reduced the [real estate] tax rate in lieu of reducing the personal property tax rate,” Pate said.

The council passed the $271.6 million operating budget also along party lines.

Ellis said she could not support the operating budget because she does not support the tax rates and because she believes some expenses are “lumped together” and “not thoroughly looked through.” She said that there was money available in the operating budget that would support a flat tax rate. “We have a lot of questions that have not been answered on this operating budget,” Ellis said.

Council member Lynn Forkell Greene (R) also did not support the budget. Greene said that the council had “worked together to make some real positive movements” in the budget. She said that she was happy the council was able to agree on a lower tax rate than was originally proposed. But in the end, she said that while “a lot of hard work went into this budget” she could not vote for the budget as a whole.

“If we could vote line by line, I’d have a different response, but unfortunately it’s really hard to support the whole when you don’t support a part,” Greene said.

The council voted to raise the annual salaries for city council members to $18,000, which is the state cap, and to cap the mayor’s salary at $20,000, beginning in fiscal year 2024. The measure passed 4-2, also along party lines.

Both Sebesky and Greene pointed out that the raise won’t go into effect until July 1, 2023, which means that the raise will not be in effect for the current council members. 

Ellis said the raise was a “big jump” and that it is not the time to give raises to elected officials who serve the public. 

Pate said that city council members are currently paid $15,759, while the mayor’s salary is already at the $20,000 cap. The council’s previous policy was to boost mayor and city council salaries annually at the same average raise for city staff. Because the council members would reach the state cap under the planned 5% raise for city employees, staff proposed that the council make the change in order to “bring the city’s practices and policies more in line with state law.”

Bergeron said that the move will cost less than $12,000 and will eliminate the need for any further administrative actions by human resources and finance staff.

The council also passed the five-year capital improvement program as well as ordinances setting the water, sewer and electric utility rates, stormwater management service fees, community development fee schedules, and the airport fee and rent schedule. 

Reach Cher Muzyk at cmuzyk@fauquier.com

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