October 31, 2014

You choose - your attention or your money?

I frequently hear people say “we don’t want to be another Prince William County” when discussing growth in our county. So I looked into what that statement would mean to the average Fauquier resident.

To determine if people residing in Prince William pay more in local taxes than in Fauquier, I benchmarked the county’s budgetary cost for each person. By dividing the total county operating budget by the total population, one gets $5,534/person for Prince William and $3,808/person for Fauquier. Prince William has about 6.5 times more residents than Fauquier.

Then I performed a more detailed review of Fauquier County costs to determine population impacts. What follows is an approximation; I made no distinction between taxes paid by businesses or families, nor did I make any effort to account for funds paid to the state that are returned to the county. I used 2013 numbers from county documents found on-line and data provided by the county administrator’s office.

The annual cost to operate the Fauquier school division was $125,567,417. Of that amount, $76,892,228 (61%) came from local taxes. There were 11,097 students, or about 17% of our overall population, who received a public education. This averaged out to a cost of $11,315 per student, of which $6,929 per student was funded locally. Based on 25,930 households in the county, that would be an average cost per household of $2,965.

Local funding used to operate county government was $73,877,379 or $2,849 per household. Add that cost to the $2,965 for schools and one gets the average cost paid per household to live in Fauquier County of $5,814 per year.

If a household had no one in the public education system and was paying taxes on a house appraised at $290,000, they paid the $2,849 required to cover county governance. Adding car tax and other local taxes and fees and it is very likely they paid significantly more than they cost.

Add one child that required a public education to the household and that household would have had to pay taxes on a home about twice that value to meet the $5,814 threshold cost. Additional children would mean a greater disparity between monies paid and cost impact to the budget.

Fauquier housing is about 7% multi-unit (Prince William is over 16% multi-unit). A new 240 unit apartment complex (like Aspen South, Bealeton) appraised at $7 million would pay about $70 thousand in real estate taxes per year, or an average of under $300 per household, leaving a deficit of more than $5 thousand per household per year.

While my numbers may be approximations, the conclusion is clear — growth in and of itself does not necessarily mean an increase in the tax burden on current residents. Carefully planned growth, where a balance of incoming residents who will require access to public education is balanced with those who will not (retirement communities), and those who rent with those who build homes appraised well over $290,000, can keep our tax burden under control. Ultimately, it is up to each of us if “we don’t want to be another Prince William County”. We choose who serves on the School Board and Board of Supervisors. Those we choose determine how our county grows and whatever financial consequences occur.

The next voting opportunity is November 2015, we have a year to observe and decide our county’s future. We can either pay attention or risk paying more in taxes, it is our choice!

Rex A. Hoover