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Prince William property tax bills to increase by $139 under advertised tax rate, county jobs still on chopping block

Prince William leaders set an advertised tax rate Tuesday night.

It’s lower than the 4% increase agreed upon last year in the county’s five-year budget plan, but it’s higher than an earlier 1.3% rate increase that would have meant multiple cuts in county services, and pay freezes for county employees.

The Board of Supervisors set the advertised property tax rate at $1.122 per $100 of assessed value (property taxes are the main source of revenue for county governments in Virginia). That’s a 3.88% increase over last year’s tax rate. The rate would generate an average tax bill of $3,722 per household, an increase of $139 per year, $12 more per month than last year.

Since the county government gives about 57% of its total budget to the schools, the $1.122 rate will mean $8.4 million than what the school division expected to receive under the 1.3% increase batted about when budget talks began in earnest last month. The school division would is still short about $8 million of what it needs to fully funded, according to officials.

For about $40 more per household, the schools would have been fully funded if the county adopted a tax rate of $1.135, raising the average property tax bill by 5.11%, according to officials.

Since the Board of Supervisors set the advertised tax rate at $1.122, they cannot go higher at budget adoption time April 21. The option to fully fund the schools is now off the table.

Gainesville District Supervisor Peter Candland  proposed the 1.3% increase, which would have set a property tax rate of of $1.094 per $100 of assessed value. It would have capped the growth of the average tax bill at $47. That proposal would have also meant slashing community services, supplemental funding for Magistrates at the county’s courthouse, funding for libraries, funding for criminal gang education and awareness efforts, as well as cuts in funded healthcare services.

As of Feb. 21, funding to many of these programs was restored by the Board of Supervisors, with the exception of a portion of funding to the county’s capital park bond projects, a program for juvenile drug offenders, $175,000 in funding to Healthy Families prevention program, and $319,000 in funding for the county’s in-house print shop.

Discover Prince William / Manassas, the agency that promotes tourism in the county and Greater Manassas areas, could also see $92,000 of its funding shifted into the county’s Historic Preservation department. 

County Executive Melissa Peacor said she did not want to speculate on how many county jobs could be lost if these cuts remain permanent.

Candland voted against the advertised tax rate and heralded the openness of this year’s budgeting process.

“I don’t agree with the County Executive on a lot of things, but this is the most transparent budget process I have ever seen during my time on the Board,” said Candland.

Brenstville District Supervisor Jeanine Lawson, who is new to the Board, echoed support for a lower advertised tax rate.

“I knocked on a lot of doors last year, and I am not convinced we are out of the great recession,” she said.

The majority of residents spoke in favor of a tax increase, calling it “unnecessary austerity” in Virginia’s second largest county.

“For most of the two years we lived in Fairfax, moving to Prince William was not a viable place to move my family. Schools, crime, they were all issues,” said Justin Coleman, who has been a homeowner in the county for about a year. “Before coming here, no one talked about tax rates – no one – because people don’t think in those terms. All we thought about was ‘is the cost of housing lower in Prince William than it is in Fairfax?”

Others who spoke said the county government was not spending enough to attract high-wage employers to the region. A list from the Virginia Employment Commission of the top 10 employers in Prince William – to include the school division, U.S. Department of Defense, and the county government in the top three – suggest the county has its work cut out for it when it comes to attracting any Fortune 500 companies to the area.

“Decisions about spending taxpayers dollars should be hard… I can tell you, honestly… no one wants you stop send one more penny that is appropriate. You also have to ask if [what you’re sending is] enough?” said Occoquan resident Betty Dean.

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