When it comes right down to it, says Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully), Fairfax County residents are being slammed from all sides.
They may be asked to consider a sales-tax increase to fund roads and schools, a possible countywide income tax is on the table and they've just received their property-tax assessments.
"For most areas of Sully, it's the third year of a double-digit increase," he said. "On the average, it's a one-third increase in property taxes countywide. And for some people, it's been almost a 50-percent increase in three years. So when I hear the school folks say people are willing to pay more in taxes for schools, I say, 'They are' — because this tax money goes to the schools."
Frey noted that it's the second year in a row that Northern Virginia's lawmakers have wrangled in the General Assembly over a possible sales-tax referendum. That fact, coupled with the debate over whether to implement a countywide income tax, he said, have "triggered a full-fledged tax revolt. People are going to be screaming."
He believes this emotionally charged situation will also change the tenor of the county budget hearings: "I think a lot more individual taxpayers will come and say, 'Cut my taxes; enough's enough.'" Furthermore, said Frey, "I think it'll have serious ramifications on what people vote for in any referendum in November — people are mad."
A current bill proposed in the House has an option for local boards to create a 1/2-percent county income tax, in addition to a 1/2-cent sales-tax increase for transportation.
One Senate version calls for a sales-tax hike of 1/2 cent for transportation and 1/2 cent for education. Yet another Senate bill would replace the sales-tax option with a 1-percent county income tax. "I think a 1/2-cent sales-tax for transportation would pass," said Frey. "But if an income tax is added, I think they'd both go down."
It's no wonder then, he said, that the recent round of hikes in local property-tax assessments have fueled lots of e-mails to his office from angry constituents. "They view it as a tax increase," he explained. "The Board [of Supervisors] doesn't control the assessments, but we control the tax rate. People would like us to cut it, but it'll be darn hard because everything else is basically tanking."
Fairfax County's revenue is up 7 percent from last year. But, said Frey, 111 percent of that increase comes from property-tax increases. "Property tax constitutes 57 percent of the total revenue of the county," he said. "The other 43 percent is negative funding from all other normal revenue sources, such as the state, business-license taxes, utilities, etc."
The reality, said Frey, is that "everything we do this year is on the backs of the homeowners." His own London Commons townhouse went up 14.9 percent. "We're in a mild recession, but not in the housing market," he said. "Neighbors across the street from me put their townhouse up for sale a week ago — within five days, they had eight offers. If the housing market here wasn't in such good shape, we'd be in the same condition as the state."