The Seven-Per-Cent Solution.
Generally speaking, seven is seen as a good number. But county taxpayers may not think so when it comes to the budget being considered by the Prince William Board of County Supervisors for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
As proposed by County Executive Chris Martino, the budget would impose an average 7% tax increase on county homeowners. No, the tax rate is not increasing, but because residential real estate assessments have risen, thanks to the strong housing market, if the board doesn’t lower the tax rate, then taxes will go up next year.
For a homeowner with a $400,000 house – pretty average in these parts – that amounts to paying an extra $315 in real estate taxes.
We think 7% is a big increase even in normal times. But these times are, sadly, anything but normal. Over the past year, Prince William County residents have filed 75,001 initial claims for unemployment benefits. Businesses have closed. Only state and federal government assistance and moratoriums have kept thousands of county residents from being evicted.
And the county government wants to raise taxes. Let that sink in. They. Want. To. Raise. Your. Taxes.
By the way, even if you rent rather than owning a home in the county, you’ll still feel the effect of the tax increase. Landlords will simply pass it on to their tenants.
We recognize that the COVID-19 pandemic has added costs to running the government and the school system, but the CARES Act and additional funding that is likely to come from the latest stimulus package being considered by Congress should offset many of those extra expenses.
And while we appreciate that Martino’s budget includes a 3% performance increase for county employees, at last count, over 730 of those employees already make more than $100,000 a year – and that doesn’t include the school system.
We’d like a 3% pay increase, too, but when 75,000 people have filed for unemployment, we’re happy just to have a job.
We also appreciate that 57% of the county’s general funds go directly to the school system, which has its own set of needs.
Yet, as we urged last year (and the year before), with a budget of over $1.3 billion, there have to be opportunities for the county government and the school system to reduce expenses. But they aren’t likely to go looking for them of their own volition. It’s time for the Board of County Supervisors to step up and say that now is not the time to raise taxes. Instruct Martino and his counterparts at the school system’s Kelly Leadership Center to find some items to cut in order to fund new initiatives.
We’re OK with two of the proposed tax increases – a tax on cigarette purchases and increasing the property tax on data centers – but we urge the board to reject the 7% tax increase on homeowners. It’s anything but lucky.