- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 10, 2005

Localities in Northern Virginia are preparing to slash property-tax rates, but homeowners still will pay more — and more — because of skyrocketing assessments.

Fairfax County officials are considering a record tax-rate cut of 13 cents, dropping the rate from $1.13 to $1 per $100 of a property’s assessed value. A 23 percent increase in the assessments, however, will force the average tax bill to go up $350.

Officials in Arlington County are considering a 5-cent cut to the property-tax rate, lowering it to slightly less than 91 cents, one of the lowest in the region. Still, the average tax bill will increase by more than $600.

In Prince William County, officials are recommending a more than 15-cent rate cut, dropping it to slightly more than 91 cents. The average tax bill will still increase by $140.

Loudoun County recently approved a 6-cent cut to its tax rate, lowering it to $1.05 per $100 of assessed value. The average tax bill still will increase by $464.

Anti-tax groups are demanding more cuts and are criticizing government officials for championing tax-rate reductions when bills are soaring. The groups said the officials are trying to mask the increases and are spending too much money.

“People are fed up,” said James T. Parmelee, president of Republicans United for Tax Relief. “Taxes are going up; they are going up dramatically. Instead of the tech bubble, you have the tax bubble, and all of a sudden, it is going to burst. At some point, you won’t be able to raise taxes any further.”

The situation is the same throughout the D.C. metropolitan area.

The D.C. Council is responding to calls for tax relief, even though property-tax increases are capped at 12 percent in the city.

In Maryland, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan has presented a budget proposal that cuts the property-tax rate by 2 cents, to about $1.03 per $100 of assessed value.

Officials in Northern Virginia say they are well aware of the problem of rising assessments and are working to help taxpayers.

“We are going to do anything in our power to mitigate that extra burden,” said Gerald E. Connolly, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. “It’s the largest tax-rate reduction in history. This is not a trivial cut. We’re not sitting still.”

Mr. Connolly, a Democrat, said for each extra dollar homeowners are paying in taxes, they are getting back $167 in home equity.

If the cut in Fairfax County is approved by the full board, the average tax bill would still go up between $300 and $350. The cut is expected to pass. Without the cut, the average tax bill could go up as much as $900.

Mr. Connolly said he would like to consider another cut in September that would help seniors and the disabled.

Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sean T. Connaughton, who is seeking the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor, has been championing a cut that would give the fast-growing county one of the lowest tax bills in the region.

“The average bill will go up $140 this year, and [residents] will get three new schools, 30 new police and firefighters and $33 million worth of new road construction,” Mr. Connaughton said.

If the cut passes — and it is expected to — the Prince William County board will have lowered the rate 45 cents since 2000. The board also has in place a tax cap that will not allow the average tax bill to increase more than 5.9 percent. This year, candidates in different statewide races and from different parties are proposing plans that would cap assessments and offer tax relief.

The two main candidates for governor, Virginia Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine and former state Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore, each have proposed plans to ease the property-tax burden.

The plans have resonated in Northern Virginia, where the average assessment has increased 20 percent in the past year. Assessments are up 23 percent in Fairfax and Prince William counties and 24 percent in Arlington.

Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, has proposed a plan that would give local governments the option to exempt from taxation up to 20 percent of the assessed value of a residence or small farm. His plan also would allow homeowners to remodel or add on to their homes without paying taxes on the improvements for 15 years.

Mr. Kilgore, a Republican, has offered a plan that would limit the growth of real estate assessments to no more than 5 percent a year unless the property is sold or improved.

Mr. Parmelee said he is glad candidates are focusing on taxes. “When you have the Democrats try to say they are for lowering taxes, too, it shows how powerful the issue is,” he said.

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