The Arlington County Board yesterday voted 3-to-2 to appropriate money for an independent study of the county's real estate tax assessment procedures that was authorized by Arlington voters in a referendum last November.
The Board majority acted despite warnings from the county attorney that as much as $1.25 million could here wasted on the study and reassessments if the law authorizing the study is later found to be unconstitutional.
Instead of appropriating the money, attorney Jerry Emrich and County Manager W. Vernon Ford urged the Board to set up a quick test of the law's constitutionality before money was spent.
But the majority of the Board rejected that recommendation after Board member Dorothy Grotos labelled it a ruse to thwart the will of the public.
Emrich and Ford recommended that the Board [LINE ILLEGIBLE] with court-appointed [WORD ILLEGIBLE] to begin the study. But, they suggested that the Board do so only with the understanding that the manager would refuse the direction. With that refusal, Ford would set the stage for the Virginia Supreme Court to review the constitutionality of the law, Emrich said. Cost of the review was estimated at $10,000. Grotos, Walter Frankland and Ellen Bozman voted against testing the law; Chairman Joseph S. Wholey and John Purdy voted in favor of the recommendation.
Emrich warned that the law was likely to be tested in any event, and said that the Board could speed up resolution of the question by following his advice.Any other challenge to the law would have to work its way through lower courts and consume more time before the issue is finally settled, he said.
Money spent in the meantime on the study and possibly on reassessments could lead to nothing except expenditure of a lot of money," he said.
"Let's face facts," challenged Republican endorsed independent Board member Grotos. "The staff has always been against this. The majority party has always been against this. They lost at the ballot box, so now they're challenging it legally."
Board member Purdy who is endorsed by the Arlingtonians for a Better County and the Democrats, denied heatedly that the Board majority had instigald the recommendation to seek legal review.
The assessment review process, estimated at about $240,000, was approved in a referendum last fall and requires the Circuit Court to appoint a 3-to-5 member board to sample 10 per cent of the county's real estate assessments.
If the Court finds a "material variation" between the Board's assessments and the county's, the Court, could order a reassessment of the real estate in the county. Costs of such a reassessments have been estimated at $350,000 to more than $1 million.
Purdy said he would investigate whether he or a group of citizens might bring a legal challenge to the assessment review panel authority, but said he was "not in a position to guarantee doing something."