- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Local lawmakers — especially those facing re-election campaigns — are scrambling forward with plans to cut soaring property tax bills. But even with tax relief, homeowners in Maryland, Virginia and the District will pay hundreds of dollars more this year.

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, a Democrat ready to enter the governor’s race next year, yesterday presented a budget proposal that cut the property tax rate by 2 cents to $1.039 per $100 of assessed value.

The county already caps annual increases in property taxes at 10 percent, but Mr. Duncan justified the rate cut by citing county assessments that jumped an average 21.7 percent — the highest in Maryland — and the 5-cent increase to the state property tax rate by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican.

There are property tax bill caps in place in the District and in every county in Maryland, but no such caps exist in Virginia, where average assessments in the Washington suburbs rose 20 percent in the past year.

“We are trying to balance the needs of our growing community and our homeowners’ ability to shoulder additional taxes,” said Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sean T. Connaughton, who is seeking the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor.

Mr. Connaughton said the board wants to lower the tax rate even more than the county executive’s proposed cut of nearly 15 cents. “If we can do [more], it will be a couple cents,” he said.

The county executive’s proposal drops the rate from $1.07 per $100 of assessed value to $92.4 cents — a 13.6 percent reduction. Assessments in the county, however, are up 23 percent.

A home valued at $300,000 last year in Prince William is now worth $369,000. The new $3,409 tax bill will be $199 higher than last year’s, even with the 15-cent cut.

The situation is the same throughout the region.

Arlington County assessments soared 24 percent and a 5-cent rate cut is on the table. Loudoun County values rose 20 percent and prompted a proposed 3.75-cent rate cut.

Lower tax rates are less likely in some Maryland counties, such as Anne Arundel and Prince George’s, where property tax bill increases are capped at 2 percent and 3 percent, respectively.

Fairfax County Executive Anthony H. Griffin recommended a 10-cent cut to $1.03 per $100 of assessed value after home values jumped 23.09 percent. But the county board wants it lower.

“Given the fact that we are in the fifth year of double-digit assessment increase, I think the homeowners are due some tax relief,” said Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerry Connolly.

Still, some residents are not averse to higher property taxes.

Skipper Jones purchased her McLean home 10 years ago for $500,000 and made about $350,000 in improvements. Today, it’s worth about $1.3 million — and she is not complaining about a $13,390 tax bill.

“I would rather not pay significantly higher taxes, but at the same time I enjoy living in a place with great roads and schools,” said Mrs. Jones, 58. “In fact, I wish they would spend more money on schools.”

Not all residents are as forgiving of the tax man, and lawmakers are reacting to concerns about escalating assessments. Even in the District, where property tax increases are capped at 12 percent, the D.C. Council is responding to calls for tax relief.

Council members, several of whom are jockeying for position in a wide-open race for mayor, introduced more than a dozen bills to lower the cap, cut the rate or raise the homestead deduction, which currently lowers taxable value $38,000 for owner-occupied homes.

“More than schools, more than crime, people are very concerned about their rising property tax,” said council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat and chairman of the Finance Committee. “That is what is promoting the response we are seeing.”

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