- The Washington Times - Monday, March 29, 2004

About two dozen Fairfax County residents gathered outside the Fairfax County Government Center last night to protest increases in real estate taxes over the last five years.

Holding signs that read “No Tax Hike,” members of the Northern Virginia Republican Political Action Committee, Republicans United for Tax Relief and Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance said keeping the real estate tax rate at $1.16 per $100 of assessed value represents a 70 percent increase in the typical family’s real estate taxes over the past five years.

“[The county supervisors] would have to cut the tax from $1.16 to $1.06 to keep the bills the same for taxpayers, because the assessments keep going up,” said James Parmelee, president of the Republicans United for Tax Relief.

The hourlong protest was held before the county Board of Supervisors began its series of public hearings on the county’s $2.7 billion budget proposal.

Supervisors have said they intend to lower the real estate tax rate at least a few cents from its current $1.16 in light of the latest increases in housing assessments.

However, they could be forced to raise the rate later this summer if the General Assembly in Richmond doesn’t come up with a two-year budget.

Earlier this month, Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, called lawmakers back for a special session on the budget after the legislature failed to fulfill its top priority of crafting a new 2005-2006 budget.

Lawmakers must now reach a compromise between a $58 billion House plan that holds the line on general taxes and a $60 billion Senate proposal that raises about $2 billion in revenue by increasing the state’s sales, cigarette and income taxes. They must come up with a budget before June 30.

If Fairfax County receives no money from the state to start the fiscal year July 1, under the worst-case scenario, it reportedly would take a 47-cent increase in the real estate tax to make up for the loss.

The supervisors are reviewing the proposed budget for next year without knowing exactly how much the county is going to receive from the state.

Some supervisors have said more of the budget is supported by the real estate tax because other sources of revenue have eroded over the past few years.

Fairfax County Board Chairman Gerald E. Connolly, who saw the protest as he headed into the government center last night, said Mr. Parmelee represents no one but himself and a small group of county residents.

“It has to be put into perspective,” said Mr. Connolly, a Democrat. “[Mr. Parmelee] has had more than his fair share of ink. It’s time to hear from millions of other people in Fairfax.”

Those who gathered outside the Government Center said the county’s spending has “gone amok.”

Bill Peabody, 49, of Fairfax, said he doesn’t see any reason why county taxpayers should pay for services that other counties live without.

“Fairfax County has programs other counties wouldn’t dream of,” Mr. Peabody said. Looking at the opulent county Government Center, he added, “They should turn this into a school.”

“It’s our Taj Mahal,” interjected Jim Jenson, 70, who has lived in Fairfax for 44 years, of the building that more than once has been compared to the majestic edifice in India.

Mr. Jenson said services such as the county’s well-known earthquake-recovery team shouldn’t be paid for by county taxpayers.

“It’s wonderful, but why are we paying for it?” he said.

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