D.C. homeowners displeased with soaring property tax assessments have official company in their misery. In most instances, the assessments on the homes of major city officials, many of whom help determine the tax rate, have increased as much as those of their neighbors, according to D.C. tax records.
The assessments on Council members' homes range from Polly Shackleton's $169,000 brick town house just off Wisconsin Avenue in fashionable Georgetown to Nadine Winter's large yellow brick Victorian corner row house on the edge of Capitol Hill, assessed at $18,500.
Council member Hilda Mason's brick and stone home in the northwest neighborhood of Shepherd Park, assessed at $85,000, had the greatest percentage assessment increase - 54 per cent.
Many top city officials live in far northwest, in neighborhoods of brick detached homes and large, well-kept lawns. That list includes City Council Chairman Sterling Tucker, who lives on 16th Street in a brick home assessed at $55,674, up 50 per cent.
It also includes mayoral aide Joseph P. Yeldell, who lives in a split-level house assessed at $83,500, city administrator Julian Dugas, who lives in a large modern brick home assessed at $89,000, D.C. Delegate Walter Fauntroy, whose two-story brick home is assessed at $81,900, and Council members Mason, Arrington Dixon, and Jerry Moore.
Dugas, Fauntroy, and Moore all live in the same neighborhood. Crestwood, located between Rock Creek Park and 16th Street. Dixon and Yeldell both live in Colonial Village, an enclave of modern homes near Rock Creek Park just inside the District-Maryland line.
Several other city officials also live in northwest neighborhoods. Finance and revenue director Kenneth Back lives in American University Park, city planning director Ben Gilbert lives in Wakefield west of Rock Creek Park, city personnel director George R. Harrod lives in a row house in Petworth, and corporation counsel John R. Risher lives in Woodley between Wisconsin and Connecticut Avenues.
Mayor Walter E. Washington lives in a large off-white brick home owned by his wife's family at 403 T St. NW in a neighborhood of huge Victorian homes, near a rundown secrion of Florida Avenue and Howard University Hospital.
Those who own homes outside Northwest include the four Council-members who represent wards outside that area - Winter, Willie Hardy, Wilhelmina Rolark, and Willie Spaulding. Hardy lives in Marshall Heights in southeast Washington on Benning Road. Rolark lives in Congress Heights in southeast Washington, and Spaulding lives in Michigan Park in northeast. Winter's neighborhood officially is named Old City Number One.
In addition, at-large Council member Douglas Moore lives in Brookland, a neighborhood located near the U.S. Soldiers Home just east of North Capitol Street.
City Council members David Clarke (D-one) and John Wilson (D-two) both are tenants in their respective wards. Clarke recently bought a home that is undergoing renovation.
Marion Barry (D-at large) has rented an apartment on Capitol Hill since his recent divorce, according to an aide in his office. Previously, Barry lived in a house in Old City Number One, which was reassessed at $64,500, up 29 per cent.
City assessments director Donald R. Beach lives in southeast Washington in a Fairfax Village condominium he bought two years ago while it was still an unfinished shell, which explains why assessments records show the value of his home nearly tripling between 1976 and 1977.
In the past, the city's 56 taxable neighborhoods were divided into "A" and "B" categories, with each group reassessed every two years. But beginning in fiscal year 1979, all properties will be reassessed annually.
The chart accompanying this article shows assessment increases on the homes of major city officials at the time of the most recent assessment on each particular property.
For example, Mayor Washington's neighborhood, LeDroit Park, was in Group A and was last reassessed in fiscal year 1977. Therefore, the 33 per cent increase represents the jump from the fiscal year 1976 assessment to that in fiscal year 1977. The fiscal year 1978 assessment is the same as for 1977 for Group A properties.
Similarly, homes that were Group B properties were reassessed this year, and the increases on the chart show the difference between fiscal year 1977 and fiscal year 1978.
All figures were taken from city tax records, and neighborhood designations were obtained from the city assessments office.
The D.C. Board of Equalization and Review, which was established to make certain that all properties are equitably assessed, received a record high 1,337 appeals of tax assessments this year, according to a board member. About 37 per cent of the appeals resulted in decreased assessments, totaling about $29.9 million. All but 282 of the appeals were from single-family homeowners.
Board members said that the number of appeals has been steadily increasing over the past few years. Board chairman Samuel C. Reynolds said between 3,000 and 3,500 appels are expected in fiscal year 1979 because all properties in the city will be reassessed.
Dissatisfaction with property taxes is certain to be an important issue in next year's city elections. Council member Winter, who chairs the housing committee, said her office gets complaints daily from homeowners who believe their bills are too high.
Council member Barry, whi is chairman of the finance and revenue committee and expected to be a candidate for mayor, has proposed a plan that would reduce the city's current tax rate of $1.83 per $100 of assessed valuation to $1.59 for residential properties - a reduction of 13 per cent. The bill will not actually reduce tax bills below their present levels, however, because the plan assumes that assessments will increase next year by as much as 28 to 30 per cent.
Council member Winter said she is trying to draft legislation that will place a ceiling on the amount of taxes paid by stable homeowners who have lived in their homes 10 years or more. Winter said similar proposals in the past have not met legal requirements.
Council member Shackleton said complaints about real estate taxes and water bills comprise a large part of the constituent complaints her office receives.
Shackleton, who is on the finance and revenue committee, said that she moved into her Georgetown home on Reservoir Road in 1960. Since that time, she said, she had not seen an assessor at her home - until a month or so ago, after the committee had critically questioned appraisers about their methods.
"Within a day or two (after the committee meeting), an assessor had come into my home for the first time," Shackleton said.
Charles W. Fortney, supervisor of the city's real estate assessments section, said D.C. has about 150,000 residential and commercial properties. There are 45 assessors, eight of whom work strictly with commercial properties, Fortney said.
Fortney said his assessors work on a schedule that lags about 18 months. For example, assessors began work in January, 1976, appraising homes whose owners received bills payable last September.
Assessments are affected by prices of properties recently sold in each neighborhood and block, the size and condition and number of rooms in the home, the lot size, and on-site observations of home exteriors.
Assessors also look at construction and addition permits issued by the city, Fortney said, but the amount additional work adds to the value of the home depends on the judgement of the assessor. For example, an assessor may decide that putting $3,000 worth of aluminum siding $3,000 worth doesn't increase the value of the home by $3,000, Fortney said.
Fortney said that when assessors visit a house for an appraisal, the cards they carry with them do not list the homeowners' names. And, he added, "It would be foolish for an assessor to appraise his own house. Someone else would have to do it."
Fortney said assessment procedures have been "under the gun" by Council members and the public, who want to be certain that the procedures are equitable.
"We have the supervisors (in the assessments office) scrutinizing the work, the board (of equalization and review) watching us, our own review section, and the public," he said.