Another year, another assessment increase, another round of questions about the Fairfax County budget.
Almost 30 residents attended the Lee District Council Meeting on Wednesday, March 22 for a presentation on the county's budget for Fiscal Year 2007, presented by Susan Datta from the county's office of management and budget.
"This is the sixth year for double digit increases for assessments, with an average increase of 20.57 percent," Datta told the residents, which translates to about $544 more in taxes for each homeowner.
While the housing value assessments continue to grow rapidly from year to year, other areas from which the county receives money have not grown as quickly, Datta said.
"Our chief financial officer has seen signs that the economy is beginning to slow, but we're not thinking the real estate market is going to burst," she said, but real estate taxes provide 60 percent of the county's income.
The finalized tax rate will most likely be about 93 cents per $100 of assessed value, Datta said, which is a reduction from last year's rate overall. "There are some things, like issues of zoning, the price of gasoline and costs of the capital improvements plan that don't grow as fast as inflation," she said to explain the disparity.
The residents had one question in mind, however: How does this directly affect their financial responsibilities and economic well being?
"We as taxpayers are into the bottom line. We want to know if it's going to cost us out of our own pockets," said Harold Henderson, a Springfield resident. "We have to be concerned with the assessment rates. The rate is where the money comes from."
The higher the tax rate grows, Henderson said, the greater the tax break associated with a donation of property, to a park or other not-for-profit organization. However, it also means paying higher taxes while owning the property.
"If you reduce the amount of your assessment, you can't go back and say it's worth more when you try to sell your house," he said.
One man asked how the School Board could continue to ask for increased funding each year, on top of the debt service the county pays for, without questioning the impact on the tax rate.
"I have sat through a decade's worth of presentations by the Supervisors. We engage in conversations. Our chief financial officer gives a presentation, the superintendent of schools gives a presentation to the School Board, and we ignore each other," said Supervisor Dana Kauffman (D-Lee).
THIS YEAR, however, there was no indication that enrollment within the Fairfax County School System was expected to increase, Kauffman said. The Board of Supervisors had suggested six percent increase in spending, or a total of $85.88 million, for the school system, while School Board requested an increase of 10 percent over last year.
More money may be coming in through the expected addition of 20,000 people to Fort Belvoir as a result of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission changes of last summer.
One resident asked if it would be possible to use tax income from Department of Defense or other military offices to defray the cost of increasing assessments near the Army base, instead of expecting homeowners to shoulder the burden.
"What concerns us is that for all the talk about extending the Metro or making all these investments into mass transit, what does that mean for the improvements to Telegraph Road or Van Dorn Street," Kauffman said.
"We've tried to make that part of the debate," said Del. Mark Sickles (D-43). "We've earmarked some transportation projects in the House, but we weren't able to work [those two projects] out. When it was suggested we set aside $95 million to widen I-66 inside the Beltway, someone said that would pay for the lawyers," Sickles said.
The Army has plans to widen several roads near Fort Belvoir, including a section between Beulah Street and Hayfield Road, in 2008, but it doesn't show one of the intersections growing to accommodate four lanes where two lanes currently stand.
"Assuming 11,000 people are coming to the Engineer Proving Ground, the possibility of significant improvements to the Springfield Mall and the completion of the Midtown project, the other question we have to ask is how do we do all these things and not get stuck on the roads," asked Kauffman. "We have to have a way to keep moving."