Saying the county government has enough cash on hand to absorb it without impacting services, delegates to the Arlington County Civic Federation on April 1 voted to recommend a 3-cent-or-more cut in the real estate tax rate for 2014.
The 23-11 vote called for reducing last year’s tax rate of $1.006 per $100 assessed valuation to 97.6 cents or lower.
Even if the lower rate is adopted by the County Board, which appears unlikely, a typical household would see its real estate tax bill rise nearly $90 from a year before; if there is no change to the tax rate, it would rise more than $280.
Supporters of the cut say the county government is accumulating cash that it doesn’t need, and can fully fund its billion-dollar budget while still giving tax relief to property owners.
“We just have to convey a message [to the government]: ‘Rein it in a little bit,’” said Larry Mayer, a former Civic Federation president whose Lyon Park neighborhood has seen double-digit assessment increases, which even with a cut in the tax rate will result in higher tax bills.
Opponents of the measure pressed supporters for specifics on what spending might have to be cut if the lower rate were adopted. Supporters shot back there would be no need to make any changes to County Manager Barbara Donnellan’s proposed budget, given the surplus that has accumulated in county coffers.
“There won’t be any cuts – there’s plenty of cash available,” said Burton Bostwick, acting chairman of the federation’s revenues and expenditures committee. “It would be relatively easy for the County Board to adopt a net decrease [in the tax rate] of 3 percent.”
Not everyone came away satisfied.
Max Scruggs, a federation delegate, said the process was backward.
When budgeting, “you need to identify what your needs are, and then address your revenues,” he said. Those pressing for a lower tax rate hadn’t done that, Scruggs said.
Over the past decade, the tax bill for a typical residential parcel has risen more than 38 percent, from $4,023 in 2005 to an estimated $5,560 this year. The higher bill has been due to both a larger average assessed value (growing from $458,200 to $552,700 during the period) and higher tax rate (up from 87.8 cents to $1.006).
“We always hear, ‘We have the lowest tax rate in the region’ – the lowest real estate tax rate doesn’t do much when you have the highest assessments,” said Tim Wise of the Arlington County Taxpayers Association, who introduced the resolution.
The average real estate tax bill for Arlington homeowners is already the highest in the region, and if costs continue to rise, “we’re all going to be moving somewhere,” Bostwick said.
Pish-posh, countered delegate Kathryn Scruggs of the Alliance for Housing Solutions. She said the county’s location has made it a sought-after address, and residents are not fretting over a few extra tax dollars.
“There’s plenty of people who want to come here and pay the taxes,” she said.
County Board members have advertised a real estate tax rate of $1.006, which sets the upper limit for adoption. Board members can adopt a lower rate, although they have given no indication they might do so.
The tax rate that is adopted in May will be retroactive to the start of the year; tax bills are payable in two equal installments in June and October.