A decade ago, a committee of Fairfax County business leaders warned that county homeowners could expect to pay much higher real estate taxes unless Fairfax made a concentrated effort to win businesses at a faster rate than new houses.
Yesterday the County Board of Supervisors was given statistical evidence that its efforts to heed the warning have worked.
This year more than 24 percent of the county's tax base will be composed of commercial and industrial properties, the board was told by its staff. That represents a leap of about 70 percent from the 14.8 percent commercial and industrial tax base in 1976, when the committee issued its warning.
All around the metropolitan area, suburban-based businesses and industries are paying a bigger share of local taxes than ever before, and, officials say, reducing the tax burden for homeowners.
The shift mirrors the transformation of Washington's suburbs from quiet bedroom communities to major employment centers.
"In the early 1970s, we were heading toward being a wall-to-wall subdivisions, which would have been a financial and transportation disaster," said Fairfax Board Chairman John F. Herrity, who has identified himself with the county's probusiness policies.
"If you start out with the assumption that Fairfax County is going to develop, I think you have a much more attractive community that will not go bankrupt."
In the last year alone, according to Fairfax statistics, the part of the tax base paid by businesses has jumped from just over a fifth to nearly a quarter.
The District has the largest proportion of commercial development of any jurisdiction in the region, with 44 percent of its tax base classified as commercial or industrial.
In Arlington, which has seen a sharp increase in building, 38 percent of the tax base is commercial or industrial. Alexandria has 33 percent of its taxable properties in those categories.
Fairfax County ranks next, with 24 percent, and Prince George's County follows closely with 21.6 percent. Montgomery County's commercial and industrial properties account for 19.7 percent of its total properties.
Alexandria also has registered a dramatic increase. In 1980, commercial development accounted for 20 percent of its properties. That figure climbed steadily through the 1980s, reaching 33 percent this year.
David J. Chitlik, Alexandria's real estate and assessment director, attributed the increase to a surge in commercial construction. "Most of the new growth is in retail and office space," Chitlik said. "They're just not building much more residential units or condominiums."
Chitlik said the changing growth patterns have had a significant impact on the city's government. Commercial and industrial firms tend to require fewer city services than do houses and other residential developments, he said.
Thomas Houff, supervisor of assessments in Prince George's, said the county's business base began expanding in 1981 and is expected to continue to grow as interest rates fall.
At the same time, he said, Prince George's is "seeing a steady decline in the emphasis on the residential sector."
Montgomery County Finance Director Max Bohnstedt also hailed the increasing business development, saying that the expanding commercial base not only helps keep residential tax rates down, but also means more jobs for area residents.