Fairfax County To Recalculate Disputed 2008 Assessments

By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 1, 2008

Fairfax County's chief tax official, under pressure from the Board of Supervisors and agitated homeowners, announced yesterday evening that his office would recalculate 2008 property assessments that show enormous increases in land values accompanied by deep cuts in the worth of homes.

Kevin Greenlief, director of the Fairfax Department of Tax Administration, had been adamant this week that the valuations mailed Monday were based on sound analysis of recent land sales.

But after an early evening meeting with County Executive Anthony H. Griffin and Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D), Greenlief backed off and said the valuations would be redone. Of the 351,598 taxable parcels in the county, the value of 331,308 had changed.

"From what the board has said and what the public has said, it warrants us taking a second look," Greenlief said.

He said a property owner's overall assessment would not change. The county will adjust only the allocations of value between land and home.

It was a remarkably rapid admission of error by the county, which prizes its national reputation for steady, efficient management. Although Greenlief was appointed by Griffin, he and the board do not have the authority to force Greenlief to alter the valuations. Under state law, he is the equivalent of an independent, elected commissioner of revenue.

But Connolly and Griffin, who had been deluged with complaints from homeowners, made it clear to Greenlief yesterday that he had an emerging debacle on his hands.

"I don't think it passes the giggle test that a house in Fairfax County is worth $63,000," Connolly said. "If that was true, we would be able to resolve our affordable housing crisis."

He was referring to a McLean home cited in a Washington Post article yesterday. The overall assessment of the three-bedroom home declined slightly in the latest assessment. The value of the home dropped from $266,590 last year to $63,930, and the value of the land increased 66 percent, to $501,000.

Although the overall residential values in the county are down an average of 3 percent, tax officials said the elevated land assessments were based on studies of nearby vacant land. They said that because undeveloped land in the county is increasingly scarce, it took more than a year's worth of sales to evaluate the market. The result, Greenlief said, was a "pent-up correction."

Asked whether he understood Greenlief's explanation, Connolly said: "Understanding and accepting are two different things. Do I understand it? Yes. Do I accept the rationale? No, not really. I just think you should not be unduly burdening taxpayers in one year to make a correction that reflects several years. It's plain unfair to taxpayers."

In retrospect, Greenlief said, it might have been more prudent to phase in the increase in land values over several tax years.

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