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Council Seeks to Ease Tax Bite

Richard Dingman has lived in the Town of Vienna for 40 years. But Dingman, a retiree and former Town Council member, is beginning to wonder how long he will be able to stay.

Over the past three years the assessed value of Dingman’s house has jumped 40 percent. And as the value of his house has risen, so too have his property taxes.

"I’m not wealthy, but I’m not in the poor house either," Dingman said. "Any extra money I get I want to be able to spend on my retirement and on my family."

At a recent meeting of the Town Council, just after he announced he would be running for re-election, council member Steven Briglia voiced his support for a one-cent cut on the town property tax. Council member Maud Robinson said most of the council seemed to support Briglia’s proposal.

"There was a general consensus, judging by the nodding of heads," Robinson said. "We’re going to do everything we can to lower the tax rate."

IN APRIL, the council will go to work on setting Vienna’s tax rate, as they review the town’s yearly budget. A cut in the property tax, Briglia said, would help offset an 18 percent overall rise in assessments on Vienna properties this year. In 2001 Town of Vienna homeowners paid 30 cents per every $100 of assessed property value. That 30-cent rate reflected a one-cent cut from the previous year, when the rate was 31 cents.

"The handwriting was on the wall for a double-digit increase," Briglia said of the county assessments. "We turned in our budget priorities Feb. 1 and the one main thing, at the top of my list, was to have a one-cent decrease."

Mayor Jane Seeman said there is a "strong possibility" of a one-cent cut, and that the council "will certainly go into the budget sessions with that in mind.

"It’s always our goal, when assessments are at this height, to cut tax by at least a penny. That’s all I can really say."

Following Briglia’s comments at the council meeting, council member Albert Boudreau, who is also running for re-election, echoed Briglia’s sentiments. He also suggested that the town send a letter to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, asking for a countywide cut on property taxes.

"People need some relief, and the county isn’t going to do it," Seeman said, explaining the need for a Vienna tax cut. "We run a pretty tight budget, but at the same time we want to have enough money for the things people want."

THE TOWN has a five-year schedule for spending, to minimize the number of unanticipated expenditures that come up during the budget process. A new dump truck, for example, would cost $180,000. To add $180,000 to the budget, without planning for it, would mean raising the tax rate by one cent, Briglia said. So, by planning in advance for spending, the town can keep the property tax rate down.

"We don’t want to tax people out of their own neighborhoods," Briglia said. "We have a lot of fixed income people, who that hits the hardest."

The assessment on Briglia’s own house rose over 20 percent this year, and he said friends have reported similar increases. While overall assessments increased by 18 percent in Vienna this year, residential assessments increased more dramatically. Average non-residential assessments in Vienna went up 10 percent this year, while residential assessments increased at an average of 20 percent, according to town finance director Philip Grant. Overall Fairfax County assessments are up 16 percent.

"Assessments vary widely all over town," Robinson said. "The big factor is home sales. If someone sells their home in 2001, and it has gone up in value, it might affect other homes in the neighborhood."

Robinson said she was behind a one-cent cut on Vienna taxes. She said cutting the tax rate would provide some relief to Vienna’s older homeowners.

"There are people in their 60s, 70s and 80s who did so much to make Vienna what it is today," Robinson said. "Three-fourths of the funding for the Community Center came from the community. Vienna has truly evolved into a balanced town, we have all age levels living here. And so many people who have worked to make it that way are now forced to consider moving elsewhere."

ALTHOUGH DINGMAN said a one-cent Vienna tax cut would help, he would like to see a larger decrease. Dingman said that even if the town lowers the tax rate by a penny, the average Vienna homeowner will still pay more money in taxes than in 2001. Last year the Town Council decreased their property tax rate by a penny but, at that time, Dingman asked the town to consider a three cent cut to entirely negate the assessment increase.

"[The town council] should approach it as, ‘The amount of money we are extracting from people is this and we should not increase it,’" Dingman said.