Our new all-Republican Board of Supervisors realizes that lowering Loudoun County’s highest in Virginia property tax rate is a top priority. However, there is a stealth tax increase coming that they need to be aware of before it is too late if they want to have any hope of lowering taxes. The Board is in the process of deciding whether to commit Loudoun County to funding Phase II of the Dulles Rail project, the Silver Line. Our lame duck Board of Supervisors (non-lame duck Eugene Delgaudio to his credit voted no) just voted to support committing the County to this project. If the new Board fails to opt out of the rail project, we, the taxpayers of Loudoun County, will be on the hook for at least $316 million. That works out to $1,000 for every man, women and child in the county. That’s “at least” because our commitment is for a percentage of the total cost. If the final cost exceeds the budget (has a major transit project ever come in under budget? No!), we will have to pay “our” share of the overruns.
But wait, there is more. The bulk of the financing for this project will come from increased tolls on the Dulles Toll Road. Every Loudoun citizen who uses that road will have to pay a “tax” to support the rail line. Toll increases are baked into construction of Phase I ($1.2 BILLION), but if we proceed with Phase II, toll road users are expected to provide another $2.5 BILLION. You may have heard claims that tolls will be increased to astronomical levels and assumed that was just exaggeration on the part of opponents. Not so. The official projections of toll revenues being used in planning the project assumes tolls of $4.00 for driving the entire toll road, $2.75 if you get off at a ramp – beginning in 2018. Not a problem for you? Well, they increase by one dollar every five years, to $9.00 and $7.75 in 2044.
Not to worry – we’ll all be retired or dead by 2044, right? Well, unfortunately, aside from tolls, the only funding committed to this project is the agreement of Fairfax and Loudoun to pay their percentage share (and a small amount – $23 million – from the Commonwealth). It is interesting to note that no federal funds are committed to Phase II, which would make this the only significant rail transit project built without federal funds since the inception of the federal transit program. If more money is needed – and it will be – the only alternative available to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which controls the toll road and is managing the project, is to raise tolls higher and sooner. Higher tolls will put pressure on the counties or the Commonwealth to provide even more money.
If Loudoun commits to Phase II, one way or another, tax increases and higher tolls for Loudoun residents are inevitable, making reducing property taxes that much more difficult.
Instead of committing Loudoun County to this expensive project, the Board should opt out of it and work to control toll increases that will be required to fund Phase I.
I will take up the issue of the merits of the project in a later post.