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January 5, 2015 · OPINION

Fauquier must get serious about business in 2015

By Kate Warzinski
Orlean

Every year, many of us are wished a prosperous new year as we receive holiday greetings from friends and family and break out the new calendar. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary definition of prosperous is “marked by success or economic well-being or enjoying vigorous and healthy growth, flourishing.”

So, what better time to wish Fauquier County a prosperous new year? No one can argue that Fauquier and each of its citizens can benefit from a bit of economic success. But there’s that ugly word, “growth,” connected to “prosperous.” Growth is a dirty word here in Fauquier County. Let’s face it, there will be no prosperity or ability to support the needs of Fauquier unless we have growth in our service districts. We need to embrace this concept if we are to have a prosperous county.

A recent report from George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis echoes this concern for Fauquier County’s economy. GMU’s David Versel gives us sobering news in “Real Property Assessment Trends in the Washington Region, 2005-2014.” Our property values in Fauquier County have not recovered to pre-recession levels.

This is in contrast to many other counties in the D.C. metropolitan area that have recovered nicely from the recession. Successful Maryland and Virginia counties have prospered with an increase in their commercial tax bases and multi-family housing construction. The counties struggling with economic recovery, such as Fauquier, have not had the housing starts and business development needed to expand their tax bases. These local governments have had a difficult time funding public services and county facilities without placing additional burdens on homeowners to cover expenses.

With Fauquier County’s budget tied to real estate values, attitudes toward business development and support of land-use programs, our county will have increasing difficulty paying its bills without raising taxes for homeowners. This became clear when homeowners received an increase in their real estate tax rate earlier in the year, from 98 to 99.2 cents per $100 of assessed value. The county supervisors instituted a tax hike to cover the growing needs of our schools, fire/rescue, law enforcement and other services.

While the supervisors did a commendable job balancing a frugal budget last spring, not all department budget requests were funded, leaving us short on teachers, firefighters and sheriff’s deputies.

The concept of prosperity fits well with our goal for economic development in Fauquier County’s Comprehensive Plan. Our comprehensive plan emphasizes the importance of providing infrastructure and encouraging economic development within our service districts. The goal for economic development is twofold: to produce tax revenues from business and industry and to create additional jobs for our citizens.

Fauquier County will need to embrace new business and nurture and retain those already here. To support business, Fauquier should facilitate the infrastructure needed within our service districts, that is bring power, water, sewer, transportation and 21st century Internet and phone connectivity.

To accommodate the needs of the county with limited resources, we may consider four options.

• Decrease spending, which could lead to an unfortunate loss of programs and services.

• Raise taxes so homeowners shoulder a greater burden for county programs.

• Adjust our land-use taxation program to support legitimate county agriculture and harness additional tax revenues.

• Or we can build support from new commercial tax revenues.

It is difficult to cut county services already in existence and no one actually enjoys paying more money in taxes. So, the remaining options are that we can either adjust our land-use program so we recover a portion of lost tax revenues, which total $18 million annually, or we can generate more commercial tax revenues with business in our service districts.

An open-arms approach to business will help ensure the economic success of Fauquier County and keep tax rates down for our homeowners. There should not be a shadow of a doubt that Fauquier will do everything it can to roll out the red carpet to business, help bring the necessary infrastructure, and make an effort to ensure business success. Advertising Fauquier as truly business-friendly, through the actions of our supervisors, planning commission and Department of Economic Development will enable the county to prosper in 2015 and in the future. And should we need any advice on how to achieve these goals to ensure our prosperity, we need only look to our south for an example of a successful economic development model with a red carpet out for business.

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