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Prince William County supervisors support slightly reducing residential real estate tax rates, rolling back planned hikes on data centers and boosting a new cigarette tax.

During a work session Tuesday, the Board of County Supervisors discussed the proposed $1.35 billion budget for fiscal 2022, which starts July 1. The proposal comes with a $1.02 billion six-year Capital Improvement Program, with $224.8 million designated for the upcoming fiscal year.

In a series of nonbinding votes, supervisors revealed their support for changes to the real estate tax rate, the business tangible computer and peripheral tax – which mostly affects data centers – and the new cigarette tax.

County Executive Chris Martino presented the budget with a steady real estate tax rate of $1.125 per $100 assessed value. However, because property values have increased an average of 7%, the average residential homeowner’s tax bill was projected to rise by $306. The spending plan also included a 25-cent increase in the business tangible computer and peripheral tax to $1.60 per $100 of value, and a new tax on cigarettes of 30 cents a pack.

Chair Ann Wheeler, D-At-Large, proposed reducing the real estate tax rate by 1 cent to $1.115 per $100 of value, which would cut the average tax bill increase to $264. Budget Director David Sinclair has said the rate would need to be lowered to $1.05 to keep bills the same.

Seven of the eight supervisors supported the 1-cent reduction.  Republican Pete Candland of the Gainesville District abstained. 

Wheeler also proposed lowering the business tangible computer and peripheral tax from $1.60 to $1.50, an increase of 15 cents, and increasing the new cigarette tax to 40 cents per pack.

An initial poll on the data center tax found Wheeler and Democratic Supervisors Andrea Bailey, Victor Angry and Margaret Franklin in support and Republican Supervisors Yesli Vega and Jeanine Lawson opposed. Candland and Kenny Boddye, D-Occoquan, abstained. 

Vega supported keeping the rate at $1.60, while Lawson said she didn’t support raising it at all. Boddye and Candland said there had been a lack of concrete planning on how the county will gradually raise the rate over time. 

Boddye later said he would support the revision if the board commits to developing a plan for the rate in the future.

Supervisors voted along party lines to support the change to the cigarette tax, with the five Democrats in support and the three Republicans opposed. Candland raised concerns that lower-income residents would be more affected by the new levy than wealthier residents.

The other main discussion points of the work session were proposals to eliminate and forgive library fees, increase staffing in the police department and provide raises for county government employees.

Vega made two proposals around public safety – one to add four officers to the police department and another to adjust planned increases for county employees. 

Martino’s budget would make employees eligible for a 3% merit-based pay increase. Vega proposed changing that to 3.5% for uniformed public safety employees and 2% for all other county staff.

However, after jockeying back-and-forth, her measure did not succeed. 

Supervisors also discussed a $350,000 request from the Sheriff’s Office for body-worn cameras and Tasers. The board was deadlocked 4-4 on whether to include it in the spending plan, with four supervisors wanting more information about the need for Tasers. 

Vega, Franklin, Wheeler, Boddye and Angry supported waiving the library fees, but Candland and Lawson said the fees promote accountability. Bailey abstained.

“If there’s no incentive to get that book back in, I guarantee you it’s going to be forgotten and that’s just wrong,” Lawson said.

Boddye and Candland proposed using some of the coming federal COVID-19 relief funding to cover the expected $300,000 in lost revenue from waiving the fees.

The board is expected to adopt the budget and tax rates at its April 27 meeting.

Nolan Stout covers Prince William County. Reach him at nstout@insidenova.com or @TheNolanStout on Facebook and Twitter.

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