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February 14, 2018

Proposed county budget raises taxes 11.7 percent

The vast majority of positions added are in the fire and rescue area. But, because of the austere nature of the budget, it does not meet anywhere near the school board’s request.
— County Administrator Paul McCulla
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
Fauquier homeowners would face a significant jump in their real estate tax bills under the county administrator’s proposed budget for fiscal 2019.

Paul McCulla’s spending plan calls for the owner of an “average” home to pay $393 in more taxes. That represents an 11.7-percent increase from this fiscal year.

The average tax bill would increase to $3,745, according to Mr. McCulla’s budget proposal.

Released Wednesday, the plan totals $335.9 million, an increase of $25 million or about 8 percent.

Fauquier’s board of supervisors will begin budget deliberations in March.

Mr. McCulla’s budget proposal would give the school system $3 million more — half the increase that Superintendent David Jeck proposed. Dr. Jeck’s plan totals $144.5 million.

Mr. McCulla’s proposal also would provide Fauquier’s emergency services department $3.1 million more for:

• 13 new fire and rescue technicians, funded only with county money ($1.4 million).

The department has 101 career firefighter/medics.

• The county’s $1.5-million match to fund 15 fire/rescue positions, created in 2017 after Fauquier received a three-year SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grant from the federal government.

• A senior administrative assistant, the reclassification of nine positions and the purchase of three new ambulances.

The budget proposal also includes:

• $830,000 for nine new county government positions, including an assistant county administrator, marketing coordinator, budget coordinator, information security analyst and project manager.

• $1.1 million for 1.4-percent cost-of-living raises and 1-percent merit pay hikes for county government’s more than 700 workers.

County workers received no pay increase in fiscal 2018.

“The vast majority of positions added are in the fire and rescue area,” Mr. McCulla said. “It also seeks to provide the schools a sufficient level of funding to take care of their compensation increases. But, because of the austere nature of the budget, it does not meet anywhere near the school board’s request.”

Fauquier’s real estate rate stands at $1.039 per $100 assessed value. It did not increase this fiscal year.

For tax purposes, Fauquier reassesses the county’s real estate every four years. The Code of Virginia requires local government to reassess all property at 100 percent of fair market value.

Real estate owners received their new assessments in January.

Under the previous assessment, Fauquier valued the average home at $321,300. Based the new assessment, average residential value has increased 17.7 percent to $378,000.

A penny on the real estate tax rate generates $1.1 million in revenue — about $100,000 more than the previous assessment produced.

Fauquier’s proposed fiscal 2019-2023 construction plan totals $72.2 million, with an additional $212.3 million designated for “future” years.

The board will conduct work sessions on March 2, 6, 8, 13 and 19.

The supervisors’ public hearing on proposed budget and capital improvements plan will take place Thursday, March 15, at Fauquier High School in Warrenton.

The board expects on March 22 to adopt the budget, capital improvements plan and tax rates.

The new fiscal year begins July 1.

Fauquier Proposed 2019 Budget Summary by Fauquier Now on Scribd

Member comments
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Jim Griffin · February 17, 2018 at 9:39 am
farmbum: Agreed, but let's address the issue. Every million cut gets us closer to the goal you set in your comment. The entire line item for easements should be stricken.

It's money we don't have, it centralizes land use and unfairly shifts tax burdens.

A million here, a million there, pretty soon it's real money, and the million we spend in a year to do it is tiny compared to the irreversible rippling effect across the tax base. As tax burdens shift, so do property values.

Not a distraction.
farmbum · February 17, 2018 at 7:46 am
The conservation easements are a distraction to the real issue at hand. They will not be solved by the time the tax bill comes due. The supervisors need to grapple with their model of the proposed increased burden of taxes on the home owners of this county.

Nothing in the budget justifies the percentage increases in assessments nor the proposed 11 percent increase just to the home owners. The value is just not there for the services that are provided - today. Think about that.
Fred_GarvinJr · February 16, 2018 at 4:16 pm
The purchasing of development rights is nothing more than a transfer of wealth from the have-nots to the haves.
Jim Griffin · February 16, 2018 at 1:52 pm
To be clear, my read of this budget is that it proposes to grow the spend on conservation easements, at first by 7.9% to $819,913, and then by 28.41% to $1,052,512.

This should not stand. Spending our money twice -- once when the rights are acquired, and over and over again as the tax burden shifts -- is offensive when the goal is govt substituting its judgment for land owners.

No more. Reverse this if possible. Only communists defend government power over the wisdom of the market.

Zoning, build codes -- these I tolerate and understand, but literally owning the means of production -- the right to develop our land -- goes too far, especially when we are forced to both fund this endeavor and accept a shifted tax burden that deprives future generations of the tax base needed to fairly fund our schools and county.
Jgd1 · February 16, 2018 at 1:29 pm
I’m retired. My Social Security was raised 2% this year. That covers the increase in Medicare. My property assessment is going up 40% but I did not make any major improvements or additions to my property? Now a big tax increase on top of it? I guess I need to sell my new car to reduce my car tax and find a job to work to pay for Fauquier County Government to stay in business...or give up something to make ends meet?
Jim Griffin · February 16, 2018 at 11:25 am
Step by step. one step at a time. I've no generalized feelings about taxes, high or low, but I oppose communism in all its forms and conservation easements that use govt money to acquire for a social collective the right to develop land conflicts with my principles, which favor the market making decisions on matters like real property.

This does not mean I oppose govt acquisition of property needed for govt purposes, like fire stations or libraries or schools or general buildings.

Specifically, I oppose using taxpayer money to take 100,000 acres of development rights off the market. Market forces are a primary driver of a capitalist economy.

In addition, I oppose shifting the tax burden once met by this land to other taxpayers who are otherwise unaware of what has occurred in their name with their wallet.

The hand of govt intervenes in the market for land in this county. It's the butcher putting his thumb on the scale, substituting his judgment for ours. It's manifestly unfair to the good citizens of this county.

It's also a Midas Touch: Apparently, it can never be reversed. Should times and circumstances change, the easements do not. They are land mines buried and forgotten.

We only realize their impact when they explode on us, like they are now as we awaken to the idea that our schools could be fully and fairly funded but for the decisions of our govt to intervene in the market for real property upon which our local finances and schools depend.
sshrader · February 16, 2018 at 11:11 am
Oh boy you guys, you have to dig a bit deeper than just conservation easements to get to the real issue of how the ultra rich avoid their fair share of taxes. Unfortunately, since the ultra rich also control our government, there is little chance for true reform.
BJ · February 16, 2018 at 9:32 am
Jim Griffin - good to know information and insight. There is a large tract of land behind us that is in conservation easement, we checked before buying because it is prime land with rolling hills and a pond, and didn't want to see a development behind us. However, the landowner is elderly without children, and sad to say we are concerned that her extended family could take the land out of conservation easement and sell to the highest bidder (developer). We love that the land is being conserved but at what cost to the rest of us in the tax base?
Jim Griffin · February 16, 2018 at 8:26 am
BJ: Something tells me those who put their property into a conservation easement are no more able to reverse their decision than are those who sell their property in whole. I could be wrong about that, but your question is nonetheless valid: What if those who hold the conservation easement choose to develop or otherwise alter the current non-development use of the property?

I do not begrudge those who choose without payment to place their property into a conservation easement. It is their right to do so under the law, but it involuntarily deprives the rest of us of their full contribution to our schools and other vital services.

This practice should be discontinued. It should be an election issue. It will be an issue for me. This program should come to an immediate end. I have no problem with its continuance on a purely voluntary basis with arrangements made in advance for maintaining the tax payments that would otherwise derive from the property's development rights.

In the interests of clarity, I repeat: This program is involuntary for two reasons. First, the citizens who have the tax burden shifted onto them are not parties to the agreement to do so, and Second, the tax money used to acquire these conservation easements is not voluntarily paid to the government. Change these two things and I have no problem with it; Fail to change this and you should not continue in elected office.
BJ · February 16, 2018 at 7:10 am
After reading Virginia Laws pertaining to the Virginia Conservation Easement Act, including taxation, I am left with questions. What if in the future those landowners decide to take the property out of VA Conservation Easement? Will they have to pay back taxes on the property after enjoying years of reduced taxes?
nonewtaxes · February 15, 2018 at 10:03 pm
It means your taxes will go up about 11.7% That's about 5x the rate of general inflation. That's about 4x the rate of wage increases.

If $30 a month doesn't seem like a lot then it should be just as easy to cut taxes $30 a month.
BJ · February 15, 2018 at 8:35 pm
Ok, someone tell me if I figured this correctly. Does this increase mean that my taxes per month will go up around $30? A dollar a day?
citizen observer · February 15, 2018 at 2:45 pm
I knew when it was implemented the rest of the taxpayers would eventually have to pick up the burden for the big landowners. It's a joke and a shame.

Unfortunately politicians love it. Perhaps many are big landowners? Doubtful it will ever be overturned. Here is a clip from an article in the Loudoun Times: "Virginia Sen. Jill Vogel and Del. Randy Minchew offered introductory remarks touting the success of the land conservation initiative in Virginia at the event, which was co-sponsored by Farm Credit."
Jim Griffin · February 15, 2018 at 12:47 pm
I am especially appreciative to sshrader for the pointer to the tax exemption on real property assigned to a conservation easement.

In all honesty, it might just as well simply state that the tax burden borne by such land will be shifted to other county land owners on the date of such easement because that is the effect.
sshrader · February 15, 2018 at 12:14 pm
Virginia Laws pertaining to the Virginia Conservation Easement Act, including taxation:
nonewtaxes · February 15, 2018 at 11:59 am
If the county wants to manage sprawl in can charge $20,000 for building permits for new housing or limit new housing to 100 units per year and let contractors bid on permits. Favorable tax treatment for conservation land seems like... a favor to large land owners and a disfavor to everyone else.

Jim Griffin · February 15, 2018 at 10:39 am
A question: The article says the county is required to assess at full value real property rights held within the county. Does the county meet this duty with regards to rights assigned to, say, PEC?

Do we assess their value? Do we tax PEC on the value of those rights held by them? If not, why not? How are they exempt from a requirement that applies to citizens and organizations?
Jim Griffin · February 15, 2018 at 9:25 am
Agreed with Lee Smith: It is bad policy for government to acquire en masse the development rights to otherwise private land, worse still at public expense. The tax base erosion is simply one good objection to the practice.

One reason: We refuse to let market forces decide land use. Zoning and land use rules are not enough, these rights are literally purchased with public money and placed in the hands of the community.

This is not capitalism, it goes well beyond socialism. It removes the means of production from the hands of people and places them in the collective.
mcm37 · February 15, 2018 at 8:32 am
Raising our taxes to hire a marketing coordinator? Really?
RGLJA · February 15, 2018 at 7:25 am
The board of supervisors is out of control. I can't remember when we've had so many irresponsible new spending projects (e.g., unwise broadband proposal, redundant new library, etc) at the same time increasing real estate taxes by double digit margins to fund their double digit increase in budget. WHY??? We should throw every one of them out of office if they ram this budget through.
Silii · February 15, 2018 at 7:07 am
I appealed my assessment. It approached a 40% increase to a property that has had NO changes since the last assessment. The "appeal" resulted in a minimal decrease mostly due to a puny decrease in the value per square foot of my driveway. My assessed value remains very high and substantially above the sales comps and assessments in my neighborhood. Houses in my neighborhood with asking prices $30,000 less than my assessment have languished for months, only to be pulled from the market. How is it that one of the smallest houses with the least upgrades can be assessed just below large houses with pools, larger lots, more finished space interior, etc?

Well, first consider the initial appeals process. My "appeal" was conducted by one of the ASSESSORS. Yes, that's correct, hardly an impartial process. In spite of my having compiled substantial data to support my case and being businesslike and polite, the fact remained that the subtext of the "appeal" was telling the lady she hadn't done her job well and was wrong. She pulled out tables and charts to try and justify her method and job. Of course all her whirlwind of data and charts and blabber was meaningless to me because I'm not trained to that stuff plus she was trying to keep my "appeal" to under 15 minutes. So, her subtext back to me, the taxpayer, was that I'm dumb and she needed to humiliate me to let me know she had the authority to screw me over. Her picture is on the county's web page. Unfortunately, I'm not impressed, nor should anyone else be.

I'm not finished with the process and neither should anyone who is outraged as I am be finished. Hearings with the Board of Equalization are coming up. We need to crowd them out, show up in huge numbers, with our data. I'm finished talking to my supervisor about it because he's full of BS and knows he doesn't have an answer. I sit back and listen to him going on and on and he isn't even sure I'm still on the line.

Of course, if you go to the Fauquier County web page to the Board of Equalization, you will find blank spaces. No Board members have been appointed yet and the last BOE terminated August 31, 2014. My guess is they're working on the appointments. Then, look for guidelines on how the BOE functions. There are none. There is no guidance on how to formulate an appeal, what data they consider, the amount of time they allot you, etc.

Once again we taxpayers are screwed from the outset of a really phony, insider process. But, pursue it anyway.
Lee Smith · February 15, 2018 at 3:41 am
The County Administrator presents a "FY 2019 and FY 2020 Proposed Budget Overview" but fails to mention that approximately 25% (104,873 acres) of Fauquier County are in conservation easements which pay very little tax. Why does he not disclose how much revenue we lose every year to this program? My opinion is that he does not want to have the light of day on this loss of revenue. Roughly speaking, if 25% of Fauquier real estate revenue is lost due to these easements, then simple math says the calculation is $130 million dollars by 25% = 32.5 million dollars lost in this budget. If my simple math is too simple, then the County Administrator should weigh in with an estimate of the actual number. My bet is that I am not too far off.
If we had this money for revenue, then no one would have their taxes go up! As a matter of fact, we could fully fund our schools and first responders and still get a very nice reduction in our taxes.
In my opinion, the conservation easement program is income inequality at its best. How much land do you have to own to qualify? I bet the people having their taxes increased do not qualify! Do the laws providing for these (mostly) tax free lands allow you to use the properties for anything? I think the answer to that is no. Supposedly they limit traffic problems? How is that working for you? I also find it odd that the people promoting these tax free lands have been able to have state and local laws passed that make it very hard to find out who gets them and how much revenue is lost to the local community.
What do you think? Should we have a public discussion about an issue this big? This issue points to the need for a more open government so that we can participate in major decisions that impact our own budgets.
Lee Smith
Midland, Virginia

nonewtaxes · February 14, 2018 at 10:26 pm
Cost of living isn't going up that much. Inflation is running about 2%. Why does the cost of Fauquier Government go up much higher?

Jgd1 · February 14, 2018 at 5:04 pm
I don’t know where the 17.7% average increase comes from but the County increased our assessment by exactly 40%! This is way out of proportion to the comps and % increase in selling prices of homes listed by the County in our sector compared to their previous assessments. There is no way the fair market value if our property has increased by 40% that much in 4 years? We appealed it but were denied. Now they are talking about hiking the tax rate. Got killed on car taxes too...makes me want to move.
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