For the fourth year in a row, homeowners in Dranesville District were socked with double-digit property-tax increases.
Even if the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors lowers the tax rate from $1.21 per $100 of valuation to $1.19, most taxpayers will still be paying hundreds more in property taxes this year.
The average rate of increased assessment in McLean was 14.27 per cent, slightly below the county average of 14.55 percent.
In Great Falls, the average rate of increase was 12.84 percent, and in Herndon, the third community in Dranesville District, the increase averaged 11 percent.
But in Dranesville, such increases have continued for four years. It is the third year for double-digit increases in the rest of the county.
“It’s a huge impact,” said Dranesville District Supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn. “There are people whose assessments have doubled in four years. In Dranesville, that is a significant amount of money.”
“I think we need to take another look at the budget,” he said.
Marge Gersic, a Realtor for Long and Foster in Great Falls, said that in the last three years, taxes on her single-family house on the north end of Seneca Road have climbed 62 percent. This year, the assessment on her home rose almost 14 percent – again.
“I painted the trim on my house. Maybe that’s worth $100,000,” she said. “They only drop the rate two cents? What good does that do?
“The whole thing doesn’t make any sense. To place all the burden of poor management in Fairfax County on the homeowner is terrible. They are going to force a lot of people who have lived here for 30 years out of their homes because they can’t afford a tax increase of that proportion. You would be eating water and jam every day,” she said.
“She is absolutely right,” said Mendelsohn. “We’ve got money, and we spend it. We need to refocus on the priorities of government.”
MENDELSOHN ALSO FACES the ire of Dranesville homeowners like Gersic who, in the face of rising taxes, face the loss of the last two trash “parkouts” in Fairfax County, one at Cooper Middle and one at Great Falls Elementary School. Once a week, on Saturday morning county garbage trucks park there and accept the solid waste that residents bring to them.
But with the changing population, Mendelsohn said, usage has dropped. In the new budget, both parkouts are proposed to be cut. “We are losing too many people,” Mendelsohn said.
Although he plans to meet with county staff to see if one parkout can be saved, “I think Cooper is a lost cause,” Mendelsohn said. “It is a question of whether we can circle the wagons at Great Falls."
Mendelsohn was critical of a proposal to increase county revenue by instituting a $3 tax on cell phones and increasing charges for ambulance calls.
“Peoples’ taxes are going into orbit, and we are going to nickel and dime them to death?
“We’ve been there, done that, on the ambulance” proposal, Mendelsohn said. “People on fixed incomes would say ‘I’d better not call an ambulance. I can’t afford. it.’
“We don’t want people to worry about the cost of an ambulance when they need one,” he said. “We’d set up an whole new bureaucracy and we couldn’t collect most of it, any way.”
“It would devastate our volunteers’ [fire and rescue] stations. They fund a lot of equipment.
“It will cost more than we gain,” Mendelsohn said. “It’s a loser.”
GERSIC SAID SHE THINKS some salaries in the county are too high.
This year, county employees other than police, fire and schoolteachers will be getting an average salary increase of 5.3 percent, costing the county $11.53 million.
Last year, non-uniform personnel averaged 5.1 percent increases under the county’s Pay for Performance (P4P) system, while schoolteachers and public safety employees averaged 4.6 percent.
In last year’s budget, supervisors put their faith in a recalibration of the rates of increases in the P4P scale, reducing them from halves to tenths of the percentage points between one and seven.
But instead of decreasing, the average pay rate increased from 5.1 to 5.3 percent.
“I think the P4P system is not working the way it was envisioned,” Mendelsohn said. “Most people are getting top reviews.
In FY 2004, public safety employees would get a market rate adjustment of 2.56 percent to their rates of pay, and be eligible for step increases in certain years. The cost would be $9.3 million: $1.92 million for the merit increases and $7.38 million for market rate adjustments to their positions.
“Some people deserve raises, and P4P allows us to reward them,” Mendelsohn said. “We need to retain good people. I like P4P with the flexibiblity it theoretically gives us.”
“I just don’t know if it is being implemented the way the way it should. I think it is costing too much money.
“In other down years, we had a much easier time trimming compensation,” Mendelsohn said.
While stopping short of proposing a freeze or decrease in the P4P system, he said, “We are going to have to trim it this year. I don’t think we can protect the county staff in a downturn like we are having,” he said.
“That is not my sense of what the private sector is doing. In the last two years we’ve had a lot of people who have been laid off,” Mendelsohn said.
“We either need to reduce the [P4P] increases, or reduce the programs and staff. We can’t keep going to the taxpayers with these big increases.”
“We need to look at how we did it in ‘96 I am not sure we’ve done a real good look at our budget since then, at how we are doing business line by line,” he said.
“We have crept up in size.”
Gersic said she, too, thinks salaries are out of line. “A lot of companies have not given raises in two years,” she said. “I want everyone to get a fair share. But if they give such big raises, I have to pay for that, and so do you, and so does everybody else.”
FAIRFAX COUNTY permits homeowners to appeal their assessments before April 4. Homeowners who feel they may have been unfairly impacted by a comparison with similar houses that have been improved in an established neighborhood can contact the Department of Tax Administration.
An appeal form can also be downloaded from the county’s Web site at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dta.
“The relatively large percentage of properties that have an assessment change for 2003 reflects the strong price appreciation and solid sales volume in the 2002 residential real estate market,” said a release from the county’s information office.