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The year-over-year increase in real-estate assessments throughout Arlington came in lower than government officials had expected, which may cause problems for County Board members trying to avoid either tax increases or budget cuts.

Figures were reported by the county government on Jan. 19.

While residential assessments were up 3.9 percent from 2017, office-building assessments declined significantly, leading to an overall increase of 1.9 percent.

That 1.9-percent rate was significantly lower than the 3.2-percent rate of increase that had been estimated last fall, when County Board members directed County Manager Mark Schwartz to prepare a budget with no increase to last year’s real-estate tax rate.

The lower-than-anticipated assessment increase complicates the county manager’s work. “We’ll have some challenging decisions in the months ahead,” Schwartz said in a statement.

Residential-property owners in 2017 paid $1.006 per $100 assessed valuation, up 1.5 percent from a year before. Commercial-property owners each year pay the base rate, plus one or more surcharges for transportation and other services.

Assessments are made by an office within the county government. According to county officials, the average value of all residential property – single-family, attached and condominiums – rose from $616,200 in 2017 to $640,900 in 2018.

Hotels, retail and apartment properties also saw increases in average assessments, but it is the decline in office properties – representing about 18 percent of the overall tax base – that stings. It dipped 6.9 percent due to office vacancies and lower rents.

Without a higher year-over-year increase in assessed value, it will be difficult for County Board members do the favorite thing of politicians everywhere – vote for a tax-rate cut – and the situation potentially could force them to raise the rate to cover a possible gap between revenues and expenditures.

The situation also may complicate efforts to provide additional funding for the growing school system, and will put further pressure on Arlington officials to demand financial constraints on the Metro system. Last year, County Board members used school and Metro needs as justification for a 1.5-cent increase in the tax rate.

Schwartz will present his draft fiscal 2019 budget next month, with the County Board set to adopt a budget later in the spring. Real-estate taxes are due in equal installments in June and October.

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