While no official numbers have been released, County Chairman Scott K. York (I-At Large) is anticipating a large gap between where the county is financially and where it ideally needs to be.Last year, the fight over a single penny in the County tax rate (between $1.14 and $1.15) was furious. Even in a year when Loudoun regained its position as the highest-income county in America, one cent more for more secure county finances was one cent too many for a majority of the Board. This year, the Board is the same, and the problem is the same (if not worse). The majority of the county's income is from property taxes, which are subject to variances in home values.
"We're looking at a $100 million gap as we approach into that budget season and, with the values down, it's going to make things even more difficult," he said Tuesday.
The 2009 budget will be the 14th that Supervisor Jim Burton (I-Blue Ridge) has worked on since being elected first in 1995, and he said the picture is indeed grim.
"This will be probably the most difficult budget that we've had in a couple of decades," he said. - Leesburg Today
LoudounStats has a great illustration of the changes in home prices just over the past year.
Remember that the 1.14 rate was set in April of last year. That county budget was based on then-current house prices. With prices dropping even further, the revenue base for our county continues to shrink, even as demand for services increases. Witness, for example, the massive increase in ridership on Loudoun County's commuter bus services.
Our Board of Supervisors is doing all it can to keep property taxes reasonable. Indeed, this Board has done more than the previous Board to control costs and find creative sources of revenue. Witness, for example, the nearly $1M the Board saved by examining and better managing its use of power and renegotiating its contracts with utilities. Before asking the citizens of Loudoun for more, the Board has sought to do what it can to have our county government lead by example. That being said, the choices the Board will face this year will be more difficult, and more politically challenging, than the choices faced last year. Doubtless, the Supervisors who step up to the challenge and make the hard decisions to prune costs and find revenues will be attacked and vilified for doing the difficult job of governing. And there will be Supervisors who vote against whatever eventually passes, giving them the opportunity to say "I told you so" when citizens complain, as they chose to be part of the problem instead of the solution.
We can only hope that the people of Loudoun will treat the 2009 budget debate with the understanding and seriousness it deserves, and not resort to name calling ("tax and spend!") and counter-productive suggestions ("no more money for kids and schools!"). We can hope for leadership from the Chair of the Board, who has himself acknowledged the need for more taxes as part of any eventual solution. And we can all have patience with each other, and our leaders. After all, we face the difficult budget and its consequences together, and will all pay the price when the final result comes in.