Audrey Clement County Board

Candidate Audrey Clement.

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Frequent Arlington political contender Audrey Clement’s hat is in the ring for 2021, and she’s focusing, at least initially, on ever-spiraling higher tax burdens on county homeowners.

“I’m running again because Arlington taxes are slated to go up again even as other Northern Virginia jurisdictions’ tax rates are going down,” Clement said in an e-mail to supporters, formalizing her bid for Arlington County Board.

She’s right, although that sentence does somewhat co-mingle real-estate tax rates (which will definitely be coming down in a number of neighboring jurisdictions, although both the Arlington County Board and Fairfax County Board of Supervisors have advertised no change in their 2021 real-estate tax rates) with typical tax bills (which likely will be going up all across the region).

Clement suggests that Arlington elected officials don’t seem to care much about the pandemic’s impact on county residents, having allowed real-estate tax bills to balloon up in 2020 and, apparently, planning the same again in 2021.

“The impetus for tax-rate reductions elsewhere in Northern Virginia is to provide relief to homeowners hit by rising assessments, even as the pandemic has put a lot of them out of work,” said Clement. “Despite its rhetoric promoting social justice and equity, Arlington has shown no inclination to follow its neighbors in cutting taxes.”

The fiscal 2022 budget proposed in February by County Manager Mark Schwartz recommends no change to the general tax rate, but is seeking an increase in the mandatory surcharge all property owners pay for stormwater infrastructure. The result would be an overall tax rate of $1.03 per $100 assessed valuation, up from $1.026 per $100.

County Board members on Feb. 20 voted to advertise a maximum real-estate tax rate in line with Schwartz’s proposal, but have the power to go back and reduce it later in the budget process.

When coupled with an average home-assessment increase of 5.6 percent over the past year, the owner of a home assessed at $900,000 in 2020 – and had a tax bill of $9,234 – would see that assessment rising to $950,040 and the tax bill up to $9,789. That’s an increase of 6 percent, the latest in a long line of increases far outrunning the rate of inflation.

Challengers have attempted to use the spiraling tax burden as a political tool, but it seldom seems to resonate with the county electorate – an electorate that, since the 2016 presidential election, has become even more Democratic in its composition than before, leaving the general election largely an afterthought, at least in regard to local races.

Clement has become something of a perennial candidate, usually (as is the case for 2021) for County Board but sometimes for School Board. In the past, depending on who else has been on the ballot, she has received upward of 30 percent of the vote.

In her missive to supporters, Clement also took aim at another target: the county government’s “missing middle” housing efforts to ramp up density in an attempt, questioned by some, to bring down prices.

“Contrary to what the county says, ‘missing middle’ is a euphemism for up-zoning that will not make housing more affordable,” she said. “Instead, it will inflate land values, resulting in higher housing prices, overcrowded schools, more traffic congestion, loss of tree canopy, increased runoff and more air pollution.”

A 17-year resident of Westover and member of the county government’s Transportation Commission, Clement is likely to face Democratic incumbent Takis Karantonis on Nov. 2, but only if Karantonis first beats back a primary challenge from Chanda Choun.

Republicans also are on the hunt for a County Board contender. Independents have until June to file the requisite paperwork to get on the ballot.

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