The Arlington County Board voted over the weekend to advertise a higher property tax rate than that proposed by County Manager Barbara Donnellan in her proposed FY 2014 budget.
By advertising the $1.021 rate, the Board will have the flexibility of raising the tax rate up to 102.1 cents per $100 in assessed real estate value. The Board can still, as it usually does, select a lower rate than advertised when it adopts its final budget in April.
Donnellan proposed a $1.003 rate — a 3.2 cent rate increase that would cost the average Arlington homeowner an additional $262 per year. The advertised $1.021 rate — a 5 cent increase from the current 97.1 cent rate — would cost the average homeowner an extra $356 per year (nearly $30 per month, a 5.3 percent increase) over the current tax rate.
The four Board members present for Saturday’s meeting — Chris Zimmerman was home sick with the flu — split the difference between two different rate proposals.
Jay Fisette and Mary Hynes proposed to advertise a $1.011 rate, an increase of 4 cents, citing concerns about taxpayers who might be impacted by the upcoming federal budget sequester.
“I want to send a message… that if others are being called to tighten their belts, that we will exert the same discipline,” Fisette said. He called Donnellan’s proposed 3.2 cent tax rate increase and spending cuts “a really reasonable balance.”
Libby Garvey and Board Chairman Walter Tejada argued for a 6 cent increase, citing uncertainty about how the sequester might affect county finances and the finances of those served by the social safety net.
“I don’t think 4 cents will be enough,” Tejada said. “Sequestration is hanging over our heads. We have to make decisions now and anticipate and prepare. I want to be as responsible as we can for all taxpayers… including the most vulnerable in our community.”
In the end, the Board voted for a compromise 5 cent advertised rate.
“In this climate of economic uncertainty, it is important that the Board maintain some flexibility in setting the tax rate for Fiscal Year 2014,” Tejada said in a statement. “In the coming weeks, we will engage intensively with our community on how best to balance necessary service cuts with a reasonable tax rate increase. “
The Board also voted to decrease solid waste rates and fees and certain permitting and park fees. After being adopted in April, the final rates and fees set by the Board will go into effect on July 1, 2013, the start of the county’s 2014 fiscal year.