Housing Assessments In Loudoun Rise 28%

By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 28, 2006

Housing assessments in Loudoun County will rise by an average of 28 percent this year, the biggest increase in at least 16 years and a reflection of the county's astonishing growth.

The average assessment of a single-family home in Loudoun, previously $403,430, is now $516,390, according to county data. If Loudoun supervisors don't lower the county's rate during budget deliberations, the average annual tax bill will jump from $4,196 to $5,370.

"It's hard to live here," said Valley Bennett, 39, who works for her family's natural-foods store in Leesburg. "A lot of our customers are moving out. New people are coming in, but a lot of the old-timers are leaving. They can't afford it."

Unlike the District and parts of Maryland, Virginia does not limit the amount localities may raise tax bills each year.

Local governments, including Loudoun, have lowered tax rates by a few pennies here and there in recent years. But they also have had to pay for more schools, police officers and other services that their growing populations demand. Partly for that reason, they have not come close to offsetting increases in tax bills.

The growth in property values in Loudoun is undeniable, said Todd Kaufman, the county's assessor. His office tracked an astounding 25,000 property transfers to determine this year's assessment increases.

"There's enough market data out there to illustrate what's going on," he said.

Since 2001, average Loudoun property values have increased 115 percent. And unlike in other jurisdictions in the region, assessments this year did not slow. Assessments rose by 20 percent last year.

In Arlington, average assessments rose 24 percent in 2005, but 18.25 percent this year. Fairfax, Alexandria and Prince William have yet to release their assessments, but some officials, notably in Fairfax, are predicting a slowdown similar to Arlington's.

Some in Loudoun believe the slowdown is occurring there as well, but the trend wouldn't be seen in assessments until next year.

"I do believe that these assessments are running behind the market and that the market has actually cooled off and that the prices are beginning to either level off or lower," said Loudoun Supervisor James G. Burton (I-Blue Ridge). "I expect a different market picture next year."

In the meantime, residents should brace for a higher tax bill, Burton said.

"It's obvious with assessments going up that much that the tax rate is going to be reduced significantly," he said. "The debate will be how much."

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