Tax and fee hikes on real-estate property, data centers, vehicles, boats and trailers could be on the way to provide additional funding for Prince William County schools and other needs after the Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to advertise a package of higher tax rates ahead of public hearings on the proposed 2021 budget.
Board Chair Ann Wheeler, D-At Large, said the advertised rates represent a ceiling on possible new tax increases and would allow the county to provide the extra $15.3 million needed to fully fund the budget Superintendent Steve Walts presented to the school board earlier this month.
“There are unmet needs in the school system that have been there for years, and I’m trying to make sure that we have some flexibility to address those going forward,” Wheeler said. “We may not end up doing any of these things.”
The supervisors will discuss the budget and tax-rate increases in a series of meetings in the coming weeks. Once the advertised tax rate is set, the board can choose to lower the tax rates, but cannot raise them.
Walts presented a spending plan to the school board Feb. 5 that asks for an additional $31 million in local funding above the county’s long-standing revenue sharing agreement to cover employee pay raises, new spending for economically disadvantaged students and the expansion of the county’s preschool program, among other things.
Under the advertised tax rates, residential property tax rates would rise from $1.125 to $1.17 per $100 in assessed valuation, generating an additional $65 million in real estate tax revenue, according to county staff.
Average annual tax bills under the advertised tax rate would rise from $4,190 to $4,529, excluding the fire levy. The average tax bill is based on a home valued at $387,073.
Wheeler’s proposed residential tax increase is more than double the 2-cent tax rate increase County Executive Chris Martino proposed in the budget he presented to the supervisors for the first time on Tuesday, Feb. 18. Under the tax rate Martino proposed, average annual tax bills would rise from $4,190 to $4,432.
The County Executive’s proposed budget includes a 5-cent tax increase on programmable computers and peripherals, bringing it from $1.25 to $1.30 per $100 in assessed value. The Board is advertising an additional 5-cent increase on the programmable computers and peripherals, bringing the advertised rate to $1.35. The increase in the advertised rate would add an estimated $800,000 in county tax revenue above the rate proposed by the County Executive.
Also included in the proposed budget are increases in the county’s motor vehicle license fees for cars, trucks and motorcycles. The license fee for cars and trucks would rise from $24 to $33, while the fee for motorcycle licenses would increase from $12 to $20. The increased vehicle license fees will generate an estimated $3.5 million in fiscal year 2021 and put the county’s motor vehicle license fee on par with other Northern Virginia localities, Martino said.
Wheeler also requested that the county extend its $3.70 general personal property tax rate to boats and trailers which, according to county staff, could add between $1 and $4.2 million in county tax revenue. The current tax rate on such recreational assets is currently $0.00001 – or virtually zero -- with no tax bill for boats and trailers valued at less than $50,000.
Wheeler said the increase in local tax revenue, as advertised, would add about $29.5 million in county funds in FY 2021, which would produce the extra revenue for county schools as well as $7 million for unfunded county needs Martino outlined during the Feb. 18 meeting.
Those unfunded programs include a “co-responder” unit of three police officers and four therapists specially trained to respond to mental health calls; staffing increases for the department of criminal justice services; additional body-worn cameras for law enforcement officers; and about $4 million in community and social services programming.
Supervisors voted 5-2 along party lines to approve the advertised tax rates, with all five Democratic supervisors voting in favor of the proposal and Supervisors Pete Candland, R-Gainesville, and Yesli Vega, R-Coles, voting against it. Supervisor Jeanine Lawson, R-Brentsville, was absent from the meeting.
“The mere fact that we’re allowing staff to consider this is outrageous,” Vega said. “We’re trying to increase affordable housing here in Prince William County while we’re increasing their taxes at the same time. That doesn’t make sense.”
The county's proposed 2021 budget will fund $12.1 million for county employee pay raises as part of a “phase 2” of the county’s classification and compensation study completed in 2019 to address internal wage compression and make county pay more competitive with surrounding jurisdictions. Phase I went into effect Jan. 11.
The proposed budget will provide $350,000 for a 15% salary supplement for employees of a new public defenders’ office. The new office will serve Prince William County, Manassas and Manassas Park and will employ 35 people. The office will be funded primarily by state funds. Gov. Ralph Northam has included $2.7 million in his budget to establish the public defenders’ office in Prince William.
The proposed budget includes $2.3 million for a new fire station engine unit at Station 22 in Groveton, which is near Gainesville.
The proposed budget provides $1.5 million to the county’s department of elections, of which $1.1 million will help fund the 2020 presidential election. An additional $300,000 will be dedicated to early voting and no-excuse absentee voting, while $100,000 will be used to hire two assistant registrars.
The proposed budget includes $14.7 million for the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission and $5.9 million in local subsidies for the Virginia Railway Express. It also includes $8 million for the design of three of the road projects included in the road bond referendum voters approved last November. Design costs for the other two -- the Va. 28 and Summit School road widening projects -- have already been funded.
The budget does not include any money, however, to fund borrowing to construct either the $355 million in road projects or the $41 million in park projects voters approved in the referendum.
The supervisors will continue their deliberations on the budget in meetings over the coming weeks before final tax rates are adopted in late April.
The public will have its first opportunity to weigh in on the spending plan this Saturday, when the county will hold a community meeting from 9 a.m. to noon in the board of supervisors’ chambers at the James J. McCoart Administration Building in Woodbridge.
The supervisors will not attend the meeting, according to county spokeswoman Nicole Brown.
Clarification: This story has been updated to note that members of the board of supervisors will not attend a community meeting on the budget this Saturday, Feb. 22, which is open to the public. Also the proposed budget includes funds to design three of the bond referendum's road projects -- not five -- because the design of the other two projects has already been funded.
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