County supervisors have added two more positions in their ongoing county budget talks, solidifying the budget’s next real estate tax rate at $1.01 per $100 of assessed value.
Loudoun typically adjusts its real estate tax rate by half-cent steps, dictating how much money is available for the county budget. After the Board of Supervisor’s votes Monday, March 8, there is more than $4 million to go before the next half-cent step up, and supervisors would have to find $602,843 to trim from the budget to bring the rate back down.
Supervisors had already pushed the budget up a half cent from County Administrator Tim Hemstreet’s proposal with their votes March 4, funding new positions at to the Loudoun County Combined Fire-Rescue Service beyond the increases in Hemstreet’s proposal. That is also a penny above the projected equalized rate, the rate at which the average property owner pays the same dollar amount on their tax bill despite changing assessments.
However, as Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) pointed out during the meeting Monday, this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic all real estate did not appreciate at the same rate. Residential property values continued their climb, while commercial property values dipped, putting more of the tax burden on homeowners than years past.
One new position, an emergency management systems administrator, will support the emergency management office in its internal systems as well as its emergency notification systems and communications to the public, at a cost of $143,138. That office has seen its workload balloon during the pandemic.
“I don’t believe […] the way we get through the emergency is to work our staff 55 hours a week, thus putting them at higher risk and everyone else at higher risk because of the jobs they’re doing,” said County Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large). “It doesn’t help the taxpayer if when the need is the greatest, we can’t provide it at the level we otherwise would.”
“I have to believe that if this were an absolutely necessary position, then Mr. Hemstreet or [Deputy County Administator] Mr. [Charles] Yudd would have included it in the proposed budget,” Buffington said.
Supervisors also added a senior position in the Department of Planning and Zoning to review the most complicated land use applications, at a cost of $124,205. That department, said Director Alaina Ray, had had difficulty both recruiting and retaining capable planners—in large part because of the workload in a county where development is constant.
Hemstreet said part of the challenge is that in that job, employees have to attend Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors meetings—all of which ae at night.
“When people are willing to do that, they’re willing to do that for a time, they’re willing to do that for the experience, however if they’re able to go someplace that offers just day work and the pay is comparable, they do that,” Hemstreet said.
He also said that even with Board of Supervisors meetings lasting late into the night or into the early morning hours, the county is limited in how flexible they can be with those employees schedules.
Since Randall took the gavel in 2016, Board of Supervisors meetings often last until midnight or later. In the four-year term before she took the dais, only three Board of Supervisors meetings lasted past midnight; most lasted only a few hours. In 2021 alone, already four Board of Supervisors meetings have lasted past midnight.
With those positions added, the provisional real estate tax rate sits at $1.01 per $100 of assessed value. The board typically adjusts its tax rate by half-cent steps. Supervisors would have to find $602,843 to trim from the budget to bring the rate back down.