More than 47,000 District of Columbia property owners were asked by the city yesterday whether they want to contribute $232,800 to pay the legal bill for a lawsuit that saved the owners $9 million in taxes.
If they do not want to help pay the bill to lawyer Gilbert Hahn Jr., the property owners were instructed to notify the city's Department of Finance and Revenue of that decision by Jan. 18. Those who do not return preprinted postcards to the city agency by that deadline will have their share of the legal bill added to city tax bills in March.
The amount of each individual contributors would be relatively small. One taxpayer on 16th Street NW who was saved $69.02 by Hahn's lawsuit would pay $1.79 toward the legal fee. That represents 2.6 per cent of the taxpayer's saving.
The unusual mailing by the city stems from an order issued last month by Superior Court Judge John Garrett Penn. It applies to that half of the city's taxpayers who assessment were rolled back earlier this year by a lawsuit brought by Hahn - who is a former chairman of the D.C. City Council - in behalf of homeowners Tom and Marguerite Kelly.
Although the city, as the defendant, lost the case, Penn ruled that the city could not pay Hahn's legal fee. He ordered the city to mail out notices to the taxpayers who benefited from Hahn's suit giving them the option to help pay the legal fee. Hahn apparently has no recourse if taxpayers fail to pay the full fee.
The notices and preprinted cards were mailed by the city Thursday. Within hours after they arrived in yesterday's mail, a Shepherd Pard resident began collecting names on a petition protesting the city's role in collecting Hahn's fee.
One objection stated on the petition is that taxpayers who do not want to help pay the fee must provide the postage to notify the city of that decision.
John R. Risher Jr., the city's corporation counsel, said the method was the best the city could devise to meet the terms of Penn's order. Risher said there would be "no enforcement in the event a taxpayer decides not to pay" the fee.
The court order stemmed from a 1974 decision by Penn is which he ordered the city to divide properties into two groups and reassess each group in althernate years. Hahn contended, and the judge agreed, that the city prematurely resumed assessing property annualy, penalizing the 47,000 affected taxpayers.