The following is a public service message from Tax payer for Accountable Government, TAG. TAG is a non-partisan group whose interest is accountability in government spending and growth. Our Government is going wild. This is a flyer put out by TAG.
Your property tax bill is about to go up an average of
The county is proposing a real property tax rate of $1.216 for 2008. That’s an outrageous 25.6 cents increase from last year and would make Loudoun homeowners the most heavily taxed in northern Virginia (and probably statewide), by far. This is on top of many years of double-digit percentage increases. In comparison, Fairfax County has proposed to keep its 89 cents rate for 2008 and give homeowners an average tax cut of $163. It’s hard to believe both Loudoun and Fairfax had an 89 cent rate in 2006. What happened? Fairfax has curtailed spending. Many taxpayers wonder:
Why is the new tax rate so high?
Quite simply, the county wants to continue spending beyond its means, despite the dire economic conditions created by the housing crisis. The average county tax bill rose from $1,985 in 2000 to $4,774 in 2007 thanks to inflated assessments during the housing boom. When assessments dropped by a countywide average of 10% this year, we all thought taxes would naturally drop. Wrong! The proposed tax rate means the average county tax bill will go up by 13.6%, or $640 for a $447,000 assessment.
What spending increases are in the FY 2009 budget?
The largest budget item is the public schools operating budget and accounts for most of the spending increase. The school board is seeking a 15% increase – $104 million – for a projected enrollment increase of 6%. Debt service payments will rise by $20 million. County government appropriations would rise by $27 million. A post-retirement benefit fund would be created, adding $10 million.
Is explosive residential growth to blame for high taxes?
The fact is that residential growth has slowed in the past 4 years, yet our taxes keep getting higher. New residential building permits peaked in 2003 at 6,657. That number has declined every year since then to only 2,983 permits issued in 2007. Along with growth comes an expanded tax base, so individual tax burdens should not increase much. There has been over $9 billion in new construction and growth added to the real property tax base in just the past 3 years.
Why are education costs so high?
We all want quality schools for our children. We also want an efficient system that spends our money wisely, directly benefiting the children. Unfortunately, Loudoun County Public Schools is not exactly a model of efficiency. The operating budget has ballooned from $209 million in FY 2000 to a proposed $804 million for FY 2009. Per-pupil cost (see graph) is out of control, increasing at close to 3 times the rate of inflation since FY 2000, and would be higher than any adjacent county, including Fairfax. The Washington Area Boards of Education (WABE) reports (www.fcps.edu/fs/budget/wabe/) indicate higher staffing levels at all positions, salary scale increases nearly double the rate of inflation, and soaring benefits costs passed on to the taxpayers are to blame. Almost 90% of the operating budget goes towards salaries and benefits. Benefits costs now equate to 41% of an employee’s salary and would cost taxpayers almost $200 million in FY 2009! There is now 1 full-time equivalent school employee for every 6.6 students, yet classroom sizes average more than 22 students. The FY 2009 budget calls for 571 new full-time positions for a projected enrollment increase of 3,270 students. Talk about empire building! Superintendent Ed Hatrick’s compensation package is now up to a whopping $341,531.
Just one example of wasteful spending is the employer contribution to the Virginia Retirement System. It was a reasonable 9.4% of an employee’s salary in FY 2004, but rose to a ridiculous 16.4% in FY 2008 because of a projected pension funding shortfall. That is a $30 million annual cost passed on directly to the taxpayers. You probably didn’t know you were paying for pension fund mismanagement! Can you imagine Congress trying to raise the social security tax by that amount? But spending like that goes unnoticed at the local level. Employees should be paying most of that increase.
Are school employees underpaid?
School employees have received very generous annual raises ranging from 5% to 9% throughout this decade. Have you received raises like that? Here are the facts on teacher compensation: The teacher salary scale starts at $43,065 and tops out at $94,309. Average salary is $61,248. Average teacher benefits package costs $26,436 – bringing average compensation to $87,684.
Benefits are second to none. They include a defined benefit pension (Who gets that anymore?), as well as social security, and excellent health insurance. Teacher contract length is 197 days at 7 hrs a day. The contract calls for 3 days personal leave and 10 days sick leave. Add it all up and total leave is 15 weeks, not including snow days. Most other professional employees only get 4 to 6 weeks of total leave a year. Teachers also enjoy unheard of job security. They are not subjected to corporate downsizing like most us and nobody has yet figured out how to outsource their services overseas.
What can I do to help lower my taxes?
Make your voice heard, ASAP. Contact your supervisors at BOS@Loudoun.Gov or call the comment line at 703-777-0115. Include your name and address. Be specific about the tax rate you think is fair. The rate has never been higher than $1.11, according to county records going back to 1994. The equalization rate would be $1.07. Show up or speak at public budget hearings. The FY 2009 budget debate is shaping up as a battle between county bureaucrats who want homeowners to just ignore the tax rate so they can keep on spending as they please and homeowners who have a right to fair taxes. The completely unfair $1.216 tax rate can be lowered significantly (at least 10 cents), but it is going to take a lot of taxpayer outcry. Join TAG: an organization of Loudoun County taxpayers advocating fiscal restraint in county government:
Taxpayers for Accountable Government (TAG)
Visit the site, write to your friendly neighborhood BOS representative. The rate of growth is completely divorced from reality. In 2000 Loudoun Co spent $8,000 per pupil, today it is breaking $16,000 per pupil. This is not a sustainable rate of growth nor is it good stewardship if the public trust.