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Manassas homeowners can expect jump in real estate tax bills – Inside NoVA

Rising car prices are creating a windfall for the Manassas government, allowing the City Council to potentially drop real estate tax rates while still fully funding City Manager Pat Pate’s proposed fiscal 2023 budget.

City residents can still expect to see a jump in their real property tax bill, however.

At its budget work session last week, a majority on the Council supported dropping the real estate tax rate to $1.342 per $100 of assessed value, down from the current rate of $1.429 and below Pate’s original proposed rate of $1.372. The Council is expected to take up final adoption of the spending plan at its next meeting May 9.

According to Pate and Commissioner of Revenue Tim Demeria, new projections showed that personal property taxes – with vehicle valuations buoyed by rising used and new car prices – would lead to a $1.8 million surplus on top of Pate’s proposed $271.6 million operating budget for the coming fiscal year. At its work session, the council decided to maintain the $3.60 personal property tax rate – the second-lowest in Northern Virginia – and instead return the surplus through further reduction in the real estate rate.

Rising real estate valuations will still mean that the average homeowner will see their real estate tax bill increase by over $200 next year, but the reduction would save homeowners an average of $109 against the proposed $1.372 rate, according to Democratic Councilman Mark Wolfe. Real estate assessments in the city grew by 9.65% this year to $6.23 billion, the largest percentage increase the city’s seen in over a decade.

Even with the nearly 9 cent rate reduction from the current fiscal year, Pate’s budget provides for a slew of new positions, including an equity and inclusion officer recommended by the city’s Racial and Social Justice Commission, a Spanish language interpreter for the communications department, new utility staffers, a new parks maintenance worker and a stormwater asset project manager. It also funds raises for city employees and commits $63.1 million to Manassas City Public Schools, a 3% increase.

Republican Theresa Coates Ellis proposed a real estate rate that would have kept residential tax bills flat and reduced revenues for the city, but a majority on the Council rejected that idea.

“I am not looking to tax anyone anymore than is necessary, but the feedback I continue to receive from my voters, the election and frankly the citizens … is that the people are appreciative of the level of services and, frankly, are continuing to ask for more,” Wolfe said at the work session. “… I want [the tax rate] to be as low as it can be and still provide the level of services we’ve committed to.”

A good deal of uncertainty still hangs over the budget process. Negotiations on a new state budget are still stalled, with Republicans and Democrats in Richmond divided over a series of proposed tax cuts that would impact revenues for localities and schools. Pate said that while the city will have to go ahead and approve its budget without clarity from the state, a provision to freeze hiring for newly budgeted positions would be put in place if anticipated state funds failed to materialize.

Possible milestone for fire and rescue services

Pate’s budget also includes three new fire and rescue positions that, if filled, would allow the city to run an entirely professional fire and rescue service on nights and weekends for the first time. But 16 of the fire department’s 69 current positions are currently vacant, the result of a statewide shortage of fire and EMS workers. The city hopes to attract new talent through pay raises and more avenues for firefighters from other jurisdictions to take jobs in Manassas, Pate said. But unspent funds will ultimately remain with the fire and rescue department for positions that aren’t filled.

Republicans on the Council sought to pause on funding the new positions, saying there was no reason to go ahead with them given all the vacancies currently budgeted.

“I support all of our public safety, but I believe it’s inappropriate to approve three more positions when we have 16 vacancies,” Councilmember Lynn Forkell Greene said. “… I’d rather help the fire department in other ways this year … recruiting, training.”

But Democrats maintained that the department had been requesting the new positions for years and that they’d never be filled if they weren’t funded.

None of the informal votes taken at the work session were final. Council instructed city staff to draft budget resolutions for final approval May 9.

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