Two candidates vying to become the county’s next Commissioner of Revenue have different goals for the office. Republican Bob Wertz, Jr. wants to expedite the taxation process and gain local tax control while Democrat Franco Luz wants to become a voice for lower taxes.
Wertz of Ashburn Farm filed for candidacy after finding out that incumbent Catherine Ashby plans to retire at the end of the year after serving as Commissioner of Revenue since 1985 and working in the office since 1968. An employee of the Commissioner of Revenue’s office for the past 11 years, Wertz wants to continue his "services to the county in a more influential way," he said.
Wertz, who is 40, started in the office’s business taxation division in 1992 after working in mortgage banking for six years. He moved his way up to manager of the discovery, compliance and relief division, which audits local businesses to check for tax compliance and oversees the tax relief program for the elderly and permanently disabled. He oversees a staff of eight employees of the 32 employees working for the Office of the Commissioner of Revenue.
THE OFFICE of the Commissioner of Revenue handles the assessments of business tangible personal property taxes, Business Professional and Occupational License (BPOL) taxes — a tax assessed on gross receipts of businesses in the county — and personal property taxes on vehicles, mobile homes, trailers, airplanes, boats and other transportation sources, among other taxes. Until 1982, the Commissioner of Revenue also assessed real estate or real property taxes that now are handled by a Board of Supervisor-appointed county assessor, a position currently filled by Bill Gardner in the Department of Financial Services. The Commissioner of Revenue and the county assessor provide assessment information to the treasurer, who in turn collects taxes from residents and businesses in the county. The tax rates are established annually by the Board of Supervisors.
The Commissioner of Revenue's office also provides state income tax assistance and administers the county's Tax Relief for the Elderly and Disabled Program.
"I think people want someone who is capable and knowledgeable," Wertz said, adding that he understands "the inner workings of the office" and has a grasp of tax law. "Tax law is pretty complicated. It takes a while to learn it. You have to learn the job hands-on to do the job."
If elected, Wertz plans to push legislation that would help the county maintain local control over the taxation process, which currently is being restructured by the state. "The more our local taxing authority is eroded, the less control we have," he said. "We need to make sure we can control as much as we can locally without having to ask Richmond for things."
Wertz said he is interested in becoming a state Department of Motor Vehicles licensing agent. If he is elected, he plans to contact the department about allowing residents to register their vehicles with both the state and the county in the Commissioner of Revenue’s main office in Leesburg or the satellite office in Sterling and reimbursing the state registration fees back to the county. "It makes sense. We already collect the information anyway," Wertz said.
Another of Wertz’ plans includes upgrading the office’s Internet system to allow businesses to electronically file their business tax forms and licenses each year, along with including a Spanish language option. "We’re pretty advanced, but we can make some improvements," he said. "Our forms already are available over the Internet."
IF ELECTED, Luz, a Leesburg resident, wants to reach out to Loudoun residents to make sure they receive all of their entitlements to tax breaks and that they can afford to live in the county. He plans to be an advocate for lower taxes. "I think as a Commonwealth officer, the Commissioner of Revenue should be more involved with what’s going on with Loudoun County. I think our taxes are too high. … I’m concerned Loudoun County is going to be unaffordable for people to live in."
Luz, who is 54, was born and raised in the Philippines and moved to San Francisco, Calif. when he was 18 years old. He has been a U.S. citizen for 33 years.
"I fell in love with the country. Once I landed here, I thought this is paradise, this is my home," Luz said about the country’s ideals of freedom and the American dream.
Luz traveled to more than 80 different countries and all over the United States, finding that he does not want to live anywhere but in America, he said. In 1980, he moved to Fairfax County and three years ago to Loudoun County where he owns and is a real estate broker for General Real Estate in Leesburg and is a mortgage broker for Carteret Mortgage Corporation, also in Leesburg.
If elected, Luz plans to work with businesses to find out what would enable struggling businesses to afford to stay in Loudoun, including considering offering tax incentives. "We don’t provide enough support for businesses," he said. "We need to work in partnership with business. County government should nurture good relationships [among] businesses, residents and government. It should be constant communication."
As for the county’s residents, "We need to be careful not to overtax our residents because we’ll have a tax revolt. People can’t afford to buy homes here because the taxes keep going up," Luz said. "I don’t think anyone in that department is concerned about the impact of housing costs. … Part of the job of being Commissioner of Revenue is we need to make sure we are paying attention to all of those issues."