Citizens Put in Their Two Cents

Citizens Put in Their Two Cents

Residents express views on new assessments and real property tax rate, while the Assessor's Office explains the large increase over last year.

At the public hearing March 14, Leesburg resident Janet Johnson told the Board of Supervisors that when she opened her house assessment this year her blood pressure went off the charts.

Johnson is a 30-year resident of Leesburg who bought her home 27 years ago for $72,000. She raised her children in that same house and had hoped it would be her home forever. This year her assessment was raised $150,000 an increase of 44 percent over last year. At the originally proposed tax rate of 97 cents, her tax bill would increase by $1,200, she said. At the reduced rate of 92 cents, her bill would increase by $966.

"For the first time in my life, I am truly angry with my local government," Johnson said. "Unfortunately my feelings are ones of frustration, hopelessness and feelings that those of us who have lived in the county and made our home here are being abandoned."

WHILE JOHNSON WAS only one of three citizens who spoke at Tuesday's public hearing, many more Loudoun County residents turned out to show support for those who stood before the board. Johnson's address was met with loud applause upon completion, indicating her feelings were shared by the audience.

The new real property assessments, sent out in February, have raised concerns for many county residents who are concerned with their rapidly increasing tax bills. The overall net increases of real property between 2005 and 2006 is 28.6 percent, a figure that does not include any new construction. While that is the overall percentage, some homes have changed a percentage that is greater or less than 28.6 percent, Loudoun County Assessor Todd Kaufman said. It would take a 2006 tax rate of 81 cents to equalize with 2005.

Kaufman was present at the public hearing to address concerns and to explain the reasons behind the hike in real property assessment prices.

"We had to work to restructure any abnormalities that did exist at the assessment level as it was when I arrived," said Kaufman, who was hired in October. "We needed to reach the goal of the state statute, which is 100 percent of fair market value."

Currently the assessments are at 99.7 percent of fair market value. The closer the assessments are to 100 percent, the less chance there is for error and the more ability there is to ensure taxes are spread equally, Kaufman said. He added that he encourages people to contact the Assessor's Office with appeals and inquires.

"It is not a perfect process," he said. "People calling in and checking their assessments is very proactive. We rely on the public to verify our data. It allows us to make the adjustments to make sure everyone is getting a fair assessment."

In the month since the assessments were mailed out, the Assessor's Office has logged around 5,000 appeals, although the exact number will not be known until after the March 16 appeal deadline.

STERLING RESIDENT Fred Webb said he understood the price of his assessment, calling it "pure arithmetic," but he is concerned about the county's spending.

Why allow new development if it is not going to be self-supporting?" he asked. "Do you really need all the bells and whistles of the services being provided for its citizens? I believe there is a real need for an assessment of need."

Webb's sentiment was echoed by the Supervisors, many of whom stated that Kaufman and the members of the assessor's office had done their jobs well.

"We could kill the messenger, but he did his part on the part of the taxpayer," Board vice chair Supervisor Bruce E. Tulloch (R-Potomac) said. "Now it is [the board's] job to do our job on the budget."

Supervisor Lori Waters (R-Broad Run) reminded citizens in the audience that it was not the assessment that they were "getting slammed on." She said the public was only going to get hit hard based on choices made by the board in regards to the budget.

"It is important for us to hear from you. Now that these assessments have gotten your attention take the next step," she advised. "Tell us what it is going to mean for you at various tax rates."

The county residents who spoke to the board Tuesday night are already making their opinions on the proposed budget known.

"I am not expecting no increase in real estate taxes," Johnson said, "but I am asking you to think long and hard. There are many things I would like to have, but I was raised in a generation that was taught to live within their means. You learn you have to prioritize and maybe not even do them. I hope you do the same thing."