Alexandria homeowners could face an average jump in property taxes of $139 next year, compared to an increase of $23 on the average home in neighboring Arlington, officials in the two Northern Virginia localities said yesterday.
At an early morning budget briefing to City Council members, Alexandria City Manager Douglas Harman recommended adoption of a record $111 million budget for next year, blaming inflation and energy costs as prime reasons for a proposed 18 percent jump over current spending.
In contrast, the Arlington County Board slashed the real estate tax rate by 17 cents, a move expected to nearly offset the steep rise in assessments on individual homes during the past year. The cut was made possible, county officials said, by a predicted surplus of nearly $9 million generated by increased assessments and by interest income on investments.
The action, lowering the tax rate to $1.12 per $100 of assessed value, retains for Arlington the lowest rate in the metropolitan area, a status the county has enjoyed for the last four years.
In Alexandria, Harman recommended that the city property tax rate be cut by four cents to $1.40, but that is expected to be little comfort to homeowners whose assessments have risen an estimated 17 percent from a year ago.
The value of average houses in the two communities is roughly the same -- about $70,000 in Alexandria, and $73,318 in Arlington, officials said.
The Arlington Board drew heated comments from speakers before it acted at yesterday's session.
It rejected a request by Robert Stewart, an official of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employes, which represents some county employes, to set the tax rate at $1.21 to ensure a recommended 9.5 percent pay raise for county workers.
"The salaries of Arlington employes have trailed the inflation rate significantly," Stewart said. "Most taxpayers in Arlington are thriving and it is the the wealthy millionaires with large real estate interests and corporations who'll benefit most from a tax cut."
But Stephanie Prevost, a resident of Lyon Village, where assessments have jumped an average of 23 percent because of proximity to the new Courthouse Metro station, disagreed.
Prevost complained that the assessment on her "claptrap house with its leaky porch and no modern conveniences" increased 25 percent since last year, from $48,000 to $63,000.
"Everything is going up -- how am I going to pay for all these bills?" asked Prevost, who said she is a secretary and does not receive a cost-of-living increase. "If I sell this property, where will I live? I just have to go to another expensive place. The board should reduce the tax rate to compensate for those other increases caused by inflation."
Harman's recommended budget, the first in Alexandria's history to exceed $100 million, is one of four proposals presented by the manager to the council, which is expected to adopt a final version by May 6. Harman's other proposals called for total spending of $115 million, $112 million and $106 million.
Harman said that although he produced a $106 million version to meet an earlier council-mandated guideline, he believed it would eliminate too many essential city services "for the good of the city."
The recommended budget cuts $1.5 million from the city school boards $41 million request, a 20 percent increase that Harman said yesterday was "unrealistic in a time of declining enrollment . . . and an 18 percent inflation rate."
Harman's comments indicated that longstanding antagonism between the council and the school board, which traditionally receives nearly one-third of the city's budget, is likely to continue this year.
The recommended budget provides for limited growth: a 10 percent pay raise for city employes and some new positions for police, the prosecutor's office, and personnel and data processing sections of the government.
"Budget time is never happy for many people," Alexandria Mayor Charles E. Beatley Jr. said yesterday, "but it's far tougher on the council. Let's try to keep our good spirits."
In Arlington, board members rejected a move by Board Chairman Walter L. Frankland Jr. to set the county's property tax rate at $1.09, which would have offset the rise in assessments. The move also would have delayed long-term, previously approved road and sewer projects, thereby greatly increasing their costs because of inflation.
A recommendation by County Manager Vernon Ford to cut the tax rate by only 10 cents to $1.19 also was rebuffed. Ford argued that uncertainties about the amount of revenue to be generated by a two-cent regional tax on gasoline passed recently by the General Assembly warranted a more modest decrease. That tax is expected to produce between $1 million and $3 million a year in additional revenue for Arlington.
The bill's sponsor, Arlington Del. Warren Stambaugh (D), urged the board last week to cut the tax rate to $1.13 to give county homeowners relief.
Democratic Board Member John Purdy said yesterday during the tax rate debate, "Stambaugh can grandstand all he wants, but that doesn't solve the community's problems."