A hot button for the upcoming elections is the ever-escalating property taxes throughout Fairfax County. This is particularly true for the Mount Vernon/Lee districts, where some have escalated as much as 50 percent in a single year.
One group of taxpayers who are significantly impacted by this trend comprises those on fixed incomes and those reaching or at retirement age — the 65 and older community. Their concerns were presented to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors last week in the form of a 1,000-plus signature petition calling for a real-estate tax cap.
"Increased taxes and insurance premiums have particularly affected those of our citizens who are on fixed incomes, that is, our retired population above the age of 65," said Lawrence McGuire, a Mount Vernon-area Realtor, who has gathered the signatures, in a letter to Mount Vernon District supervisor Gerald W. Hyland.
"These people must make drastic changes in their lifestyles to compensate for increased expenses, abandoning long-held expectations for which they have labored and planned responsibly for years. In some cases, leaving friends and longtime associates may be the only practical course of action left to them," McGuire insisted.
THAT UNDESIRABLE solution was buttressed by Jim and Janet Fields of Woodlawn Manor. "We've been in our home for 29 years, but our taxes have just increased more than 25 percent. I've lived in Fairfax County for 60 years, but when my wife stops working, we'll probably have to move, because we won't be able to afford the escalating taxes," Fields said.
"My father ended up having to do the same thing years ago. With increased medical expenses and other things, he had to move," Fields explained.
McGuire's proposal is that real-estate taxes be capped "at the level prevailing when the owner reaches 65 years of age." He is proposing that this be retroactive, "freezing taxes at the dollar amount paid for the year 2002" for those already at 65 and above.
He presented the petition to Hyland last week with the request that it be considered by the Board of Supervisors. On Monday Hyland did just that as a part of his Board Matters for the Oct. 20, meeting.
"As my colleagues are aware, I have made a number of attempts proposing real-estate relief to the over-65 and disabled population of Fairfax County. Unfortunately, none prevailed. Mr. McGuire's proposal suggests that once a homeowner reaches age 65, the real-estate assessment remain constant (i.e., not increased further)," Hyland explained to his fellow supervisors.
"This is a different notion and one I feel should be explored," he said. Hyland then moved that McGuire's letter and petition be studied by staff and brought to the Legislative Subcommittee with its recommendations for further action.
IN ACCEPTING the petition at his Mount Vernon Government Center office, Hyland promised McGuire to not only bring it to the Board of Supervisors but also the Mount Vernon Council of Citizens Association which, in turn, would refer it to their Finance Committee, according to Hyland.
But Hyland pointed out to McGuire, "This will require a change in state law in order to become reality. That will take some time."
McGuire's petition noted, "This is for those who do not qualify for exemption from real-estate taxes because their income and assets exceed a certain level. This is for those who have worked to save and invest so they can retire and live as they are accustomed, without having to work or use savings and assets which may be required to take care of themselves so as not to be a burden on their children or the community."
Sylvia Picardat, a Hollin Hall resident, said, "I find the tax is very draining on my retirement income. It has raised drastically in the eight years I've lived in Hollin Hall. Many, many people in our circumstances feel very strongly about receiving some sort of tax disposition," she said.
Pat and Carol Eggleston have lived in the Wellington section of the Mount Vernon district for 32 years. "My tax assessment went up about 30 percent this year. It went up more this year than ever before, and the land valuation has now outpaced the value of the house," Pat said.
"The sale prices of homes in this area are going out of sight. I'm fortunate that I can still work. But, when I stop working, I'm not sure we'll be able to stay here. Our son lives nearby, and we would like to stay close," he said.
IN A LETTER to The Gazette, which was printed last week, McGuire also warned, "While increased taxes have increased the financial burden on county residents, the windfall to the county tax coffers has allowed the initiation of new programs, increased spending on old programs, etc.
"However, like the stock market bubble ... the presently inflated real-estate market is likely to be a temporary phenomenon. ... Declining real-estate assessments, coupled with new spending burdens ... will then necessitate increases in tax rates to counter budget shortfalls."
McGuire pointed out that the essence of the petition "would enable seniors to remain in Fairfax County," which he believes "is a good thing."
As McGuire noted to Hyland when presenting the petition, it took McGuire only a little over a month to garner the 1,000-plus signatures, and "they're still coming in," he said. "Because, this is something that is really needed."