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Utility Costs May Go Up

Commercial property owners could pay more for natural gas and lectricity.

Commercial property owners in Arlington could end up paying 30 percent more for natural gas and electricity if a proposal soon to come before the County Board is passed.

County Manager Ron Carlee called for a public hearing on the idea for March 31 but the board pulled his request from the agenda for its Saturday meeting.

"The residential sector of the real estate market has experienced growth at more than twice the rate of the commercial properties over the last five years," said Carlee in his recommendation to the Board. "This has placed a disproportionate burden on the residential homeowner...Increasing the commercial utility tax for natural gas and electricity by thirty percent would generate $2 million."

The current commercial tax rate for electricity runs at $.004989 per kilowatt hour. If passed, the proposal would raise it to $.00649. Natural gas would jump at the same rate.

County Board member Walter Tejada said the proposed rise in taxes is tied to the high real estate assessments seen in the county during recent years.

"We have a dilemma," Tejada said. "We have very high residential assessments but in the commercial area it's been lower. We'd prefer not to raise taxes. We really need to work on an equitable solution."

According to Carlee's recommendation, the average real estate assessment on a single family home in Arlington rose by 24 percent in 2004. Yet the average increase in the commercial sector was only 5.3 percent.

"This creates a 19 percent differential which, when coupled with a proposed $.5 rate reduction in the County's real estate tax rate, results in the average commercial property paying slightly less in taxes in 2005 than in 2004, while the average single-family property owner will pay 17 percent more," Carlee stated.

COUNTY BOARD Chairman Jay Fisette said he is uncertain just what the outcome of the proposal will be. He is waiting for feedback from the community.

"Personally, I'm leaning towards voting against it," Fisette said. "Some feel it's the right time to do it but I'm skeptical."

Yet others on the board, like Board Member Barbara Favola, believe the proposed increase is a key part of the County's financial future. The disparity between how much commercial and residential property owners pay, she said, must be addressed.

"Right now, our residential property owners are covering about 60 percent of the county's budget," she said. "Commercial owners are covering about 40 percent. I would be in favor of the increase because I'm trying to even out the tax burden."

Favola added that plans to lower other taxes in the county mean that the officials must look elsewhere to fill the gap.

IN OTHER BUSINESS, the board pulled two other items from its agenda, proposed increases to parking meter charges and parking violation fees.