When Craig and Pat Reynolds received their property tax assessment notice on their Victorian farmhouse last week they found its value had nearly doubled in one year. Across the street, Charlie Davidson's assessment was up 57 percent, and down the same block of Baltimore Street, Bob Moxley's jumped 67 percent.
The furor that has swept through their Kensington neighborhood as a result of the soaring assessments helps explain why Montgomery County - which has handily turned down tax-cutting referendums in the past - could easily pass a charter amendment this year that would roll back property, taxes in the county by a minimum of $26 million.
For years these businessmen, government workers and retirees, with three-bedroom homes off Connecticut Avenue have watched their property tax assessments climb modestly upward, adding $3,000, $4,000, even $5,000 to the value of their property each year.
But between last and this, the assessment on Kitty Raufaste's yellow house with wrap-around porches leaped from $25,260 to $44,390, with the assessment period of 45 percent of fair market value. "My phone has been ringing off the wall," said Raufaste, a member of the Kensington Town Council, which has nothing to do with assessmets. (They are made by state employes) "Everybody is upset.
"Of course the argument is look how much we could sell these houses for," she said. "But I don't want to sell it. I want to live in it. It's terrible to tax people out of their homes."
The county tax assessor's office says that what has happened in assessments in the town of Kensington this year is not the common pattern around the county. In the past several years, inflation and demand for housing has driven up property tax assessments for housing an average of 12 percent annually, according to George Andrews, assistant director of the office.
The jump in Kensington assessments probably stemmed from the assessor's effort to correct what he considered abnormally low assessments of the Kensington houses, when compared with recent "substantial" selling prices of between $100,000 and $200,000, Andrews said.
In mailing its assessment notices the assessor's office declined to notify homeowners that the picture office declined to notify homeowners is not as bad as it may seem. The 1978 state legislature extended for one more year the law preventing the tax bills to be sent out next July - from being applied to more than a 15 percent assessment increase.
Concerned that the assessment notices would create the furor they wound up doing in Kensington, the County Council instructed the county executive's office last week to send letters to homeowners informing them of the 15 percent lid.
Even that maximum is no pacifier to the families on Baltimore Street, who now are talking about supporting the TRIM (Tax Relief in Montgomery) charter amendment to roll back property taxes on the November ballot.
"Someone called me from TRIM this week and I said I'd put a Trim sign in my yard," said Bob Moxley, an employe of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
"The county council and the mayor of Kensington have been bragging about how they cut taxes or at least did not raise them this year. But with the assessments going up like they have, my tax bills are still going up, and I don't call that a tax cut," he said.
"When I bought here 16 years ago. I bought strictly what I could afford," said Moxley. He paid $23,000 for his two-story green colonial-style home on a lot that is more than 200 feet deep. According to the assessment, his house is now worth more than $80,000.
"I figured that with the monthly payment I could support my wife and two children and send my kids to college someday without selling my house. What has happened is that my taxes have almost crept up to my house payment and pretty soon they will be above it. I do very well financially with my job, but at the same time. I am just holding my own," said Moxley.
Three doors away, the tax vise is tightening on Charlie and Katherine Davidson, retirees living on social security. They bought the white frame dwelling for $8,500 in 1939 from Mrs Davidson's father who had it built in 1932.
With the latest assessment notice, the value of their home is at least $80,000 and their 1979 tax bill will be well over 10 percent of their annual social security income. Four times in recent years, Davidson, who is 68, has gone to court to win slight reductions in his assessments.
Davidson is especially annoyed because the zoom-size screened in porch shaded by umbrella-like fir and maple trees on one side of his house is "useless" since Connecticut Avenue was widened on one side of his quarter-acre lot.
"The noise, the dirt, the pollution . . . that side porch used to be lovely. It could just as well be torn off now. I've contended that over and over with the assessors," said Davidson while taking a break from painting his basement floor.
When the Reynoldes bought their 1898 Victorian farmhouse 17 years ago across the street from Davidson, the floors were rotten and the random paneling and fluted moldings were layered thickly with paint.
Reynolds, who took an early retirement from the government last year, and his wife, Pat, scraped the paint from nearly every inch of the interior, rebuilt the floor and installed their fine antiques under the 9 1/2-foot ceilings.
"We have not done a single thing this year to improve it, and our assessment went up 93 percent," said Pat Reynolds with a frown. "It just doesn't make sense." But the house next door was bought, renovated and sold for three times its initial selling price in a few month's time.
"As far as I can see, at these rates, even TRIM wouldn't go far enough," said an exasperated Reynolds. "I have a feeling that in Rockville (at the county government offices) they make the budgets and then go find the money they want."
"Government is getting bigger, and it's wasteful," said Ralph Beatty, a salesman in his 30s. Beatty and his wife Diane put everything they had into a house that cost them $25,000 in 1970. With two young children, that was the most they could afford. Now assessors say it is worth more than $80,000.
"TRIM is a way of saying, let's curtail government's powers, let's tighten the ship," said Beatty. "Politicians will say anything to get into office, but maybe a referendum will do it" CAPTION: Picture, Ralph and Diane Beaty before house valued by assessors at $80,000., By Gerald Martineau - The Washington Post; Picture 2, Robert and Joan Moxley have had the assessment of their house jump 67 percent., By Gerald Martineau - The Washington post