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Taxes Taking Their Toll

Residents voice opposition to another double-digit rise in property taxes at a budget information meeting.

Supervisor Catherine Hudgins (D) held the first of three meetings in the Hunter Mill district to hear resident concerns about the county’s proposed $3.3 billion budget for fiscal year 2007.

Like in previous years, the chief complaint at Wednesday night’s meeting, which drew only a handful of people, focused on the rise in real estate taxes, which make up 60 percent of county revenue.

Despite a real estate market slowdown in the latter half of last year, the county still experienced soaring home values reflected by a 20-percent increase in property assessments this year. But, rising home values the past six years have translated into six consecutive double-digit hikes in property taxes.

The average Reston resident will be expected to fork over an extra $520 this year, a 14 percent increase compared to last year, despite a proposed 7 cent decrease from $1 to 93 cents in the tax rate. If the tax rate passes, the average real estate tax per Reston household would be $4,181, while the average county resident would pay $5,029.

In 2005, the average Reston resident paid $3,660, an 11 percent increase compared to the previous year when the average property tax in Reston was $3,293.

This year, while the average increase for real estate tax revenue is 11 percent, other revenue sources will increase 5 percent.

DAVID SWINK, A Vienna resident who attended the March 15 meeting at the Reston Community Center, said that an average 11 to 12 percent increase in real estate taxes each year is “outrageous.”

“I think you have a valid concern about the real estate tax increase,” said Hudgins, adding that she didn’t think the tax was an equitable source of revenue. “But we don’t define the system. The Commonwealth defines it.”

Hudgins sympathized with residents angered about the tax increase, noting that her 2006 assessment was published in the local newspapers. Her property tax this year is expected to increase $1,559, three times the projected average in Reston. The Board of Supervisors, she explained, have the difficult task of setting a fair tax rate that meets county needs, including high quality schools and public safety services, which ultimately affect the “quality of life here.”

Rex Turner of Vienna, who brought his two young children to the meeting, said the consistent double-digit increases put too much pressure on taxpayers.

“You make a little more [money] each year, but then you get taxed an additional 11 percent,” said Turner. “I hope the board will not go crazy with spending. People’s incomes can’t keep up.”

THE PROPOSED 27 percent increase for board member salaries, which would increase from $59,000 to $75,000, drew mixed reactions. Turner wanted to hear the justification for the pay raise, but Bill Felmlee of Vienna thought the raise was appropriate given the amount of work supervisors do. “I was surprised they made less than $60,000,” said Felmlee. “More qualified people couldn’t do this job part-time and still make enough money to put food on the table.”

Residents also discussed the real estate tax exemptions for seniors. “I don’t mind telling people that I don’t make $72,000 a year,” said Turner, referring to the maximum allowable income for seniors to receive tax relief.

Seniors 65 years old or older, or people permanently and totally disabled qualify for 100 percent tax relief if their household income is less than $52,000; 50 percent relief if their household income is between $52,001 and $62,000; and 25 percent relief if their income is between $62,001 and $72,000. Also, to qualify for relief, a senior’s net financial worth must be $340,000 or less.

“This tells people that you’re poor if you don’t make $72,000 a year in this county,” said Turner.

Hudgins said tax relief is critical to seniors, who often live on fixed incomes. She lamented, however, that the county has not implemented other instruments to help other taxpayers in need, like struggling first-time homebuyers. In the past six years, real estate taxes for the typical household have increased 85 percent.