It appears the battle over Arlington’s taxation of country clubs, which was resolved earlier in the year, may spill over into the 2019 election season.
Katie Cristol, who is in the last days of service as Arlington County Board chairman, on Dec. 4 announced her support for Dan Helmer, a Democrat seeking to unseat Del. Tim Hugo (R-Fairfax).
Hugo was one of the prime movers behind legislation that would have forced the Arlington government to dramatically lessen its real-estate assessments on Washington Golf & Country Club and Army Navy Country Club.
Hugo “is more concerned with tax cuts for Arlington golf courses than providing health care or transportation solutions to his constituents,” Cristol said in a statement released by the Helmer campaign.
Hugo is the lone remaining Republican in the Fairfax County delegation to the House of Delegates. Democrat Donte Tanner came within about 100 votes of knocking off Hugo in 2017, a year that saw massive Democratic victories in the General Assembly.
Hugo’s district, which includes portions of Fairfax and Prince William counties, long has been considered a Republican stronghold, but is seen as a potential pickup for Democrats in 2019 if the party concentrates significant firepower in its effort to oust the incumbent.
Helmer earlier this year unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination to challenge U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-10th). Jennifer Wexton, who won the Democratic primary, went on to defeat Comstock and will take office in January.
Helmer finished a distant fourth in that primary, but was able to pull the spotlight away from more established candidates through the use of aggressive advertising and social-media techniques.
During the 2018 General Assembly session, Hugo pushed for legislation that would have forced the Arlington government to scale back its assessments on the two country clubs to levels of taxation imposed by other Northern Virginia jurisdiction. He noted that Army Navy and Washington Golf had a combined tax bill as large as the next 11 clubs in Northern Virginia.
“What we have here is a question of equity,” Hugo said at the time.
Legislation to tie Arlington’s hands passed the state Senate and House of Delegates and landed on Gov. Northam’s desk. Northam vetoed the bill, but in his veto message made it clear he expected the county government to come to an accommodation with the clubs.
With that threat hanging over them, Arlington leaders caved, cutting the clubs’ tax bills and reducing some previous years’ payments that had been in limbo while the matter was litigated in the courts and hashed out in the legislature.
All five Arlington County Board members supported the local government’s position on assessing clubs at the higher rate, but as the issue dragged on last spring, they began to tiptoe away from the issue. In an April 20 statement, Cristol contended that assessment decisions are in the hands of the assessor (who works for County Manager Mark Schwartz), not elected officials.
Cristol, who was first elected in 2015, rotated in as County Board chairman last January and will hand the gavel over to current vice chairman Christian Dorsey at the start of 2019. Like a number of Arlington elected officials, she is seen as having aspirations to move up the political food chain if the opportunity arises.