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The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors took a first step in shaping the county’s fiscal 2014 budget Tuesday as they voted to limit the potential real estate tax increase.

The county’s real estate tax rate cannot increase by more than 2 cents per $100 of assessed value when the board adopts the budget next month, and the board still has the opportunity to set a lower rate.

The combination of the proposed tax rate hike and rising real estate values means that county homeowners could see an average increase in their tax bills of up to $262.

The supervisors who supported advertising the maximum 2-cent increase said it gives them some flexibility to make adjustments to County Executive Ed Long’s proposed budget while also keeping taxpayers’ pocketbooks in mind. Long designed his proposed budget around a 2-cent increase in the real estate tax rate, which would bring the real estate tax rate to $1.095 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Supervisors Gerry Hyland (D-Mount Vernon) and Cathy Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill) were hoping to build more flexibility into the budget and asked their colleagues to advertise an even higher maximum rate, of $1.11 per $100 of value.

“I think the uncertainty of what happens in Congress … for me creates such uncertainty that it would be helpful to advertise a higher rate as a cushion, as a hedge against what might happen,” Hyland said.

In addition to the potential effects of federal budget cuts on the county’s bottom line, there is also legislation under consideration that could affect municipal bond sales and thereby increase the county’s borrowing costs.

Hudgins and Hyland both also said that the proposed 2-cent tax increase leaves little room for funding adjustments to county programs as requested by citizens during the public input process.

However, other supervisors said they are concerned about homeowners’ ability to absorb a tax rate increase at a time when many are facing potential furloughs due to sequestration and seeing increases in other taxes, like the state sales tax.

Many board members indicated their discomfort with even the proposed 2-cent tax rate increase, but they want more time to assess the budget in more detail and gather feedback from constituents.

“I am willing to support advertising [the 2 cent rate],” Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville) said. “But I don’t think this is the time to be adding 5.5 percent to the average taxpayer’s bill.”

Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) was the only supervisor to oppose advertising the 2-cent rate increase. He thought the board should be starting from a lower rate. He believes the board should instead cut spending.

“I wouldn’t support a budget at this level and I don’t think we should be advertising it,” he said.

Long’s proposed budget includes a 1.5 percent increase in general fund spending, about 80 percent of which represents a proposed increase in schools funding.

The Board of Supervisors will hold its first work session on the budget next week and is expected to adopt the fiscal 2014 budget by the end of April.

kschumitz@fairfaxtimes.com