- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 24, 2002

The District will levy a heavy tax next month on vacant properties to reduce the budget deficit and perhaps rid communities of blighted houses.
But D.C. Council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, said yesterday that the law could hurt honest property owners.
Starting in January, owners of vacant commercial and residential property will be taxed $5 for every $100 of assessed value, which would equal about $5,000 annually for a $100,000 home.
D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams and Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Ghandi introduced the legislation to reduce a $323 million budget deficit. It became part of the city budget sent to Congress three months ago.
Residents now pay 96 cents for every $100 of assessed home value and $1.85 for every $100 of commercial property.
District officials hope the tax will encourage owners of vacant and dilapidated houses or unkempt lands to improve, repair or sell the properties, said Henry Riley, the District's director of real property tax administration.
But Evans said the District once had a similar tax that failed because it was either unenforceable or hurt honest residents and said, "It will not work not work this time."
He also said the new tax is only about making money.
"I opposed the law," Mr Evans said. "The emergency bill we passed on December 3 was an effort to make the best out of a bad situation. But it is a bad law, and I hope we repeal it."
The Real Property Classification Clarification Emergency Act of 2002 lists 31 exemptions to the new tax.
For example, owners who rent homes would have to pay the tax if the property was unoccupied for a year. Though the old system had few exemptions and no cutoff time for vacant properties, Evans said the changes would make little improvement.
He said parking lots, community gardens and vacant floors in a commercial building are protected but that "people either fight you in court or don't pay the taxes."
The Office of Tax and Revenue recently sent 5,300 notices to potential violators. Mr. Riley said 3,300 are for vacant properties and that the remaining 1,700 are for improved lands with vacant buildings.
Mr. Evans said District officials predicted they would earn $10 million but have reduced the figure to $5.8 million.
"And I still don't think the money is real," he said. "We have to stop balancing our budgets on money that isn't real."
The bills will be sent in late February, Mr. Riley said.
"We put out [the message] early so that if you fall under any of the exemptions you need to notify us as quick as possible," he said.
Mr. Riley also said there are 15 exemptions for residential properties and 16 for commercial properties.
The full exemptions list and requisite forms can be found on the Web site www.cfo.dc.gov.

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