Attendance was sparse at the second public input session on the proposed tax districts around the future Metro stations in Loudoun, but many of those who came to Sterling Middle School Wednesday night were property or business owners who would be impacted by the district.
While no one appeared to be outright opposed to the district, attendees had many questions, spending most of their time around the display board that explained the district boundaries and the financing of the districts. When the Board of Supervisors chose to continue as a funding partner in the extension of the Silver Line from Reston to Ashburn, that put Loudoun on the hook for 4.8 percent of the project, which is estimated to be around $270 million. The tax districts are proposed to pay for it and the boundaries were drawn so they include almost exclusively non-residential properties.
Attendees asked Loudoun's Acting Chief Financial Officer Ben Mays a variety of questions, including whether the tax district's money could be used for other purposes, how long the district would be in place, whether it could be expanded to include other properties in the future, and what it would do to their properties competitiveness with surrounding jurisdictions as many of their properties are also within the Rt. 28 Tax District and are already subject to a real estate surtax.
On this last point, Mays told the attendees that the Board of Supervisors was very conscious of keeping Loudoun properties competitive with Fairfax County. Properties in the Metro tax district will have a tax rate up to 20 cents per $100 of assessed value. If they are in the Rt. 28 tax district, property owners also pay an additional 18 cents per $100 of assessed value.
In Fairfax, Mays pointed out, there are three taxes—a 25-cent Metro tax, the Rt. 28 tax and an 11-cent commercial and industrial tax. When combined with the regular real estate tax, Loudoun properties in both the Rt. 28 and the Metro tax district will pay $1.605 per $100 of assessed value. Fairfax properties have a tax rate of $1.615.
Mays also answered several questions about when the tax would be implemented: 2013.
"So our taxes go up in 2013 even though we won't see Metro for several years," one man commented.
Mays said that was to begin collecting money as soon as possible to build a cash in reserve for Loudoun's portion of the project. The more cash saved, the less the the county will have to issue debt to finance.
"Cash would allow the debt to retire much quicker," he said.
There were also a lot of questions about the larger tax districts and the smaller districts drawn closer to the Metro stations. To begin with the entire district will be charged one tax rate, but as time goes on the Board of Supervisors is eying the possibility of being able to reduce the tax rate in outer portion, ultimately eliminating it all together. Then the smaller districts, targeting properties closest to the stations, would raise the money to cover the operating expenses of Metro.
"The taxes should go down as soon as the project is paid off," Mays said. "The smaller districts would take over the revenue raising if it is needed after that."
But many of those in attendance questioned why someone on the perimeter of the district would be paying the same amount as a property owner immediately next to a Metro station, when the benefit to their property would be much less. Some wanted to know why there was not a tiered tax rate depending on where a property is located within the district.
"If you're right next to the rail station there is no question there is a tremendous benefit," one property owner within both the Rt. 28 and Metro tax district, who asked not to be named, said. "But if you're a mile, mile-and-a-half away, there would be no impact or it would be so negligible that it would be hard to figure."
He said he knows the board "had to draw the line somewhere" but questioned why "we're all paying the same rate."
The Board of Supervisors will have a public hearing on the tax rate at the government center at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 17.
More information on the Metro project and the tax districts can be found at www.loudoun.gov/dullesrail.