- The Washington Times - Monday, December 1, 2003

One of the strongest signs that the District has been experiencing a renaissance in recent years is the sharp rise in home values. Since 2001, revenues collected from property taxes increased by 45 percent and added an estimated $288 million to the D.C. treasury. Much of the additional revenue came from first-time homeowners and new city dwellers — the very constituents Mayor Williams has said he would like 100,000 more of by 2010. The D.C. Council is helping him to pave the way with its tax-cutting proposals.

To help relieve the burden of soaring assessments, the council capped property-tax increases at 25 percent in 2001 and 2002, but that provided little relief. Many longtime homeowners and homeowners on fixed incomes still couldn’t pay their rising tax bills, and many of them lost or sold their family homes. So, council members Jack Evans, a Democrat, and David Catania, a Republican, introduced legislation this year that would cap increases at 10 percent. Last week, the council’s Committee on Finance and Revenue voted 4-0 in approval of the legislation, the Owner-Occupant Residential Tax Credit of 2003. The full 13-member council is scheduled to vote on it this week. “My colleagues and I believe that tax relief to homeowners is long overdue,” Mr. Catania said. We concur.

The smaller tax burden will reward longtime residents and encourage potential homeowners. Also, the council is considering increasing the homestead exemption, which means that owners who actually live in their homes would be exempt from paying taxes on the first $100,000 of assessed value. The current cap on the homestead exemption is only $30,000.

All this talk of tax relief has Mayor Williams a bit nervous. To the former bean counter, the more beans the better. Understandably, the dynamics do appear challenging: A city in the throes of a wonderful renaissance facing the potential to lose $90 million in property taxes over five years, while its mayor tries to win over more property-tax paying residents during the same period. But the mayor and the council have been at this less-is-more juncture before — usually because of the council’s initiative. Then, as now, the council is on the right track.

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