With board members keeping six feet apart during a brief meeting Wednesday, the Prince William County School Board voted 6-0 to approve a $1.7 billion budget for the next fiscal year that includes $31.5 million more than the county had previously agreed to in a long-standing revenue sharing agreement.
School board members Lillie Jessie of the Occoquan District and Diane Raulston of the Neabsco District were not at the meeting.
School Board Chair Babur Lateef is expected to present the budget to the Prince William Board of County Supervisors at a meeting March 31, but that will depend on the status of the coronavirus crisis.
On Thursday, state health officials announced the Prince William County’s number of coronavirus cases had jumped overnight from four to 11. The county also closed all government buildings Thursday.
Lateef told InsideNoVa over the phone after the meeting Wednesday that the board only legally needed to approve the budget to send it to the county to continue the budget planning process.
County staff proposed a budget based on a 2 cent increase in the residential tax rate, increasing to $1.145 for every $100 in assessed value, compared to the current rate of $1.125. The budget includes $38.7 million more going toward the school division — a 6.4% increase over the current budget, but it’s $15.3 million less than school board is requesting.
“We have to invest in the community,” Lateef told InsideNoVa of the extra money sought in the budget.
Lateef said the extra money is an investment in students and will help the school division address critical needs, including teacher and staff pay increases by an average of 4.8% and an additional $400,000 to increase pay for teacher assistants.
Amid impacts of the spread of COVID-19, Lateef said it’s even more important to ask for additional funding.
“This is exactly the kind of time we should be doing this, the kind of time they should be supporting this,” Lateef said.
Supervisors left the option open for additional spending during budget discussions last month, but that was before the coronavirus pandemic that will likely force local governments to seek additional savings, not additional spending, during budget talks this spring.
The Board of County Supervisors could raise taxes on data centers, which are among those that pay the county’s computer and peripheral equipment tax.
“Data centers is one place you go for that [additional revenue] and you go hard for it,” Lateef said.
County staff have proposed to increase the computer tax, which primarily involves data center tax collections, from $1.25 per $100 of assessed value to $1.30 per $100 of assessed value. Neighboring Loudoun County currently charges $4.20 per $100 of assessed value for computer equipment.
The board of county supervisors is tasked with setting tax rates as part of its budget planning process for fiscal year 2021, which starts July 1.
Chair Ann Wheeler told insideNoVa on Wednesday she has been working closely with county staff as the county takes precautions against the spread of the coronavirus.
“Every morning emergency operations people get together and discuss where we can reallocate resources,” Wheeler said. “They do it all day long. We’re working on what we can do.”
Wheeler said she is looking at different, possible impacts on the county’s budget due to responding to the coronavirus. “We’re waiting to see the state and federal impact on the budget,” she said. “Because it’s not just a local issue. This is a state and federal issue.”
The county canceled a budget work session set for March 17. The county board had two public hearings scheduled in April and additional meetings before scheduled budget adoption on April 28. Due to the coronavirus, it is uncertain how those meetings will be impacted. Currently, all gatherings are canceled at county facilities.
On March 18, the three Republican supervisors, Jeanine Lawson, Brentsville; Yesli Vega, Coles; and Pete Candland, Gainesville, sent a letter asking county staff to develop a budget that is based on keeping residential tax bills largely unchanged due to the local impact of COVID-19. It is unclear what the tax rate would be set as under this proposal.
A decision like that would not only impact the school division’s ability to address needs, but impact the county’s plans for broad salary adjustments, transportation project spending and other priorities.