Budget realities from COVID-19 cut $40.6 million from Prince William budgets – Inside NoVA

Prince William County will leave the rate on real estate taxes unchanged for the next fiscal year, as the budget reality of the COVID-19 pandemic forced supervisors to ditch new spending and a proposed tax rate increase.

More than 25 Prince William County residents who talked remotely to the board of county supervisors Tuesday were divided with many supporting a proposal to keep the real estate tax rate steady in an effort to fund schools and social services, while others said the county should decrease the tax rate as thousands in the county have lost jobs and others face furloughs and an uncertain future amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The board adopted its $1.09 billion budget for fiscal year 2021 that starts July 1. 

The board adopted the same real estate tax rate as this fiscal year: $1.125 for every $100 of assessed value. That doesn’t mean that taxes won’t go up. Residents who have seen property values climb will see an increase in their tax bill, about a $177 increase on the average residential tax bill. 

The vote was 5-3. Supervisors Jeanine Lawson, R-Brentsville, Pete Candland, R-Gainesville, and Yesli Vega, R-Coles, argued for a tax rate of $1.085 per every $100 of value. Democratic supervisors argued the cuts would limit county services. 

Supervisors also voted to increase the tax rate on computer equipment by 10 cents to $1.35 per every $100 of assessed value — a charge that primarily affects data centers.

The adopted budget has $40.6 million less than staff had proposed on Feb. 18. Of that money, $22.7 million was expected to be added to school division revenue.

The board ended up allocating $629.6 million to the division, including $625.3 million that is part of the county’s revenue sharing agreement, along with additional funding for class size reduction, costs related to the 13th high school and more. 

Chair Ann Wheeler said she expects the board will have to revisit its budget every quarter due to the uncertainty of the pandemic. 

When the board adopted its current budget last year, Republicans held a 6-2 majority. Now, Democrats hold a 5-3 majority. 

The budget included $7 million for pay increases for about 1,500 employees, raises that were recommended to the board to ensure employees are being paid equally for similar work and to make sure pay is competitive with other governments in the region.

Supervisor Andrea Bailey’s proposal to add an additional $150,000 for community partners — nonprofits such as ACTS in Dumfries — to the existing proposal of $92,904 for fiscal year 2021 was also approved. 

David Sinclair, the county’s director of the office of management and budget, told the board the fiscal 2021 budget means about $36 million less than the school board adopted as part of its recommended budget. The school board is waiting to adjust its spending plan until after the county and the state determine how deep cuts will go.

On Feb. 18, County Executive Christopher Martino proposed a budget based on a 2-cent increase to the real estate tax rate. After the coronavirus, Wheeler sought a budget that kept the tax rate unchanged. 

Among items cut was a 3% merit raise for county staff. Martino also has implemented a hiring freeze unless the position is required for public safety related to the pandemic, focused spending on core services, and postponed large construction projects that are not under contract, among other measures. 

Staff project the county will see $14.2 million less in revenue in fiscal year 2021. The county also expects to receive $2.4 million less in revenue prior to June 30, when fiscal 2020 ends.

In Prince William Health District, which includes the county, Manassas and Manassas Park, reported 1,677 people who tested positive for COVID-19, 183 people were hospitalized and 23 people have died due to the virus, according to the Virginia Department of Health. 

According to the Virginia Employment Commission, over 28,600 Prince William residents filed for unemployment benefits between March 15 and April 18.

The board also approved the request from Supervisor Andrea Bailey, D-Potomac, for $2 million for the environmental and preliminary design for the Van Buren Road extension project. That funding is coming from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority.  


Supervisor Margaret Franklin, D-Woodbridge, proposed on April 21 to start a small business program so the county can offer $10,000 loans and grants through its Industrial Development Authority. This week, the board approved $1 million for that program starting this fiscal year 2020 and carrying over any funds to fiscal year 2021. Also starting this fiscal year, is a program pitched by Franklin to dedicate $500,000 to offer rental or utility assistance for people who are low income or elderly or disabled.

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