Arlington County unveils $1.1B budget; property values up; rate would stay the same

Arlington County may be able to avoid hiking property taxes in the coming fiscal year, but rising property values and fees will still result in an increase in tax bills, County Manager Barbara Donnellan told the County Board on Thursday.

Donnellan proposed a $1.1 billion budget — a 2.6 percent increase. The additional funding would cover improvements in road maintenance, a $5.2 million pay raise for county employees and additional funding for affordable housing and the homeless.

Because of swelling property assessments — almost 6 percent for residential property — and rising fees on personal property, vehicle decals, refuse and water and sewer service, tax bills will go up, Donnellan said.

The owner of the average Arlington home, worth $552,700, will see his or her tax bill grow by $282, about 5.3 percent, to $7,371.

There is an additional $12 million in one-time-only funds available, which the board must decide how to spend. Donnellan advised putting the money into capital improvements.

The proposed budget recommends a tax rate of $1.006 per $100 of assessed value. Virginia requires the same tax rate be applied to both residential and commercial properties.

“I’m more than pleased because the assessments in a way surprised me in how strong they were,” Donnellan said in an interview.

“It doesn’t add back all the cuts we had in previous years ... but the [rising assessments] mean the value of our property is sustaining itself.”

Commercial assessments are up 3.5 percent. Even with vacancy rates averaging 16 percent, Donnellan said, the rising assessments show that “businesses want to move here and reinvest here, which is a very, very good indication for the future.”

The County Board now begins a two-month-long process of working through Donnellan’s budget recommendation. It will hold public hearings March 25 and 27, and vote on the budget April 22. The budget takes effect July 1.

Under Donnellan’s proposal, schools are slated to get $432.2 million, an increase of 4.7 percent over the current fiscal year. The proposal would pay for expected enrollment increases, as well as providing permanent funding for police who work as school resource officers.

The fee increases will mean that property owners will pay an average $300.72 next year for solid waste collection, a $6.96 jump. The water and sewer rate will rise 43 cents per 1,000 gallons, a 3.4 percent increase. Local bus fares will increase 25 cents, to $1.75 per ride, on ART buses, and up 50 cents, to $3.50, for users of the STAR buses, which serve disabled passengers.

Patricia Sullivan covers government, politics and other regional issues in Arlington County and Alexandria. She worked in Illinois, Florida, Montana and California before joining the Post in November 2001.

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