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Call Comes to Lower Taxes

At annual hearing, County Board hears same message from 25 speakers: lower tax rate more than a little.

It wasn’t the groundswell that some were expecting — only 32 people showed up last Thursday to speak out on the county’s real estate tax rate.

But the speakers at a the March 25 public hearing overwhelmingly urged County Board members to cut the tax rate by more than one or two cents. In the proposed budget presented to the Board last month, County Manager Ron Carlee based funding on the same tax rate as last year, $0.978 for every $100 of a home’s assessed value. The price of the average single family home rose 17 percent over last year.

Only seven speakers stood up to tell board members they were happy with county taxes, and the services they fund.

Instead, most speakers echoed the comments of Roger Morton, the first speaker. Morton, a former member of the county’s Fiscal Affairs Advisory Committee, said that in decades past County Boards had kept tax payments mostly steady, with cuts when assessments rose, “adjusted for inflation.”

“It’s not possible to do that now, because of this board’s propensity to spend,” said Morton. “This Board continues to overspend year after year.”

Stuart Gamerman put it more bluntly. Noting that taxes on his home had risen from $1,344 to $3,055 over the last five years, Gamerman said, “I think the goal of this board is to collect as much money as possible, and to spend it.”

<b>SOME CALLS</b> for lower taxes came with suggestions about how to recoupe those funds from other sources. Keith Fred suggested a different method of taxing commercial real estate in Arlington, putting more of a burden on owners of large businesses.

At a Tuesday night public hearing, Fred had another suggestion: change Arlington’s top administrator from a county manager to an elected county executive.

Carlee, as county manager, is appointed by and responsible to the board, and the County Board is responsible for making administrative decisions, such as how much to cut the tax rate each year.

An elected county executive would be able to recommend a lower tax rate and, Fred noted, could also be voted out of office if voters saw their tax bills rise too high.

Only two speakers offered a suggestion for a lower tax rate. Handing Board members a copy of his “Citizen’s Budget,” John Antonelli, a regular at Board meetings, said cutting waste in county government would allow the Board members to set a tax rate of 88 cents.

Wayne Kubicki, a current member of the Fiscal Affairs Advisory Committee, made allowances for a slightly higher rate. With the rise in assessments this year, and a possible increase next year, Kubicki said, “a six-cent tax rate cut would still allow [revenue] growth of about $30 million — that ought to be enough.”

<b>BUT MOST ADVOCATES</b> of a tax rate cut criticized the county’s fiscal management.

County social and human services “have expanded to a degree that unsupportable,” said Ashli Carpi. “Social services serve people better served by non-profits.”

“I would urge you to differentiate wants from needs,” said Charles Walter.

If the board held the hearing on a weekend, they would hear more criticism, said Frank Emerson.

“It’s easy to forget that most taxes are paid by people who work a full-day of work. They’re tired after a full day’s work,” he said.

In fact, a bigger audience would be more likely to tell the board they are satisfied, said Lora Rinker. “I don’t think this audience is representative of Arlington.

Rinker, and other speakers who supported current tax rates, were greeted by muttered curses or laughs from other audience members.