District residents continue to shoulder a greater tax burden at most income levels than those in surrounding jurisdictions, according to a study recently released by the D.C. Department of Finance and Revenue.
The District ranked first for families earning $50,000, $75,000 and $100,000, with the disparity between D.C. and suburban tax bills increasing in the higher income brackets, according to the annual study of six area jurisdictions. Alexandria residents paid the highest taxes in the $25,000 income category.
Mark I. Gripentrog, acting associate director of D.C.'s finance department, attributed the city's higher tax bills to the level of services needed. District taxpayers are called upon to cover much of the cost of increased law enforcement and welfare services at a time of high crime and ecomomic hardship, Gripentrog said.
"We have a higher welfare level in the District, a higher needy population," Gripentrog said. "We like to say that we're funding a lot of the welfare needs for the region."
The District may have to consider even higher taxes, some officials say, given deficit spending in a number of city agencies and the downturn in the regional economy. The District is believed to have run a $93 million deficit in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 and is anticipating a $100 million deficit the current fiscal year.
Gripentrog and representatives from other jurisdictions said the report does not fully compensate for differences in the way jurisdictions calculate taxes or incorporate fees for certain services. In the District, for example, the cost of garbage collection is factored into the tax base, whereas in some localities, residents are billed separately for garbage collection.
The report, prepared annually for a House appropriations subcommittee, applies actual tax rates to a variety of hypothetical situations. The report assumes a family of four with two children and two wage earners. For example, for a family earning $50,000, the estimated tax burden in the District is $5,424 compared with $5,245 in Montgomery County, $4,549 in Fairfax and $4,042 in Arlington.
When compared with suburban averages, the District showed consistently higher taxes on income, real estate and sales. Only on automobile taxes did the District fall below the average for the metropolitan region.
Alexandria officials bridled at the report's finding that the city ranked first with the highest tax burden at the $25,000 income level and number two at the $50,000 and $100,000 levels.
Assistant City Manager J. Thomas Brannan asserted that the report's "assumptions are so far-fetched that they're not even close to reality." He noted specifically that the report analyzes the tax bills of a family occupying a single-family house, while 69 percent of Alexandria's population lives in apartments or condominiums.
Montgomery County also fared poorly in the report, ranking second or third in all four income groups. Daniel Lucas, the county's revenue specialist, said "the tax burdens are not all that different." He also said the District and localities in Maryland use different formulas for calculating income taxes.
Arlington, which has for years boasted low property tax rates, was found to have the lowest tax burden in all four income categories. "It's the Arlington way," said Mark Jinks, the county's director of finance. "In general, the County Board likes to see things done effectively, but with as little money as possible."
Jinks also said the county has the largest commercial tax base in the region and has a small number of school-children for a county its size.
BY INCOME, FOR FAMILY OF FOUR IN SELECTED JURISDICTIONS, 1989
Jurisdiction...........Tax on......Tax on......Tax on....Tax on
City of Alexandria.....$2,663......$4,918......$8,370....$10,779
District of Columbia... 2,473...... 5,424...... 8,848.... 12,142
Arlington County....... 2,156...... 4,042...... 6,936..... 9,020
Fairfax County......... 2,451...... 4,549...... 7,788.... 10,053
Montgomery County...... 2,598...... 5,245...... 7,968.... 10,603
Pr. George's County.... 2,388...... 4,847...... 7,370..... 9,845
*Projected (includes income, sales and use, real estate and automobile taxes).
SOURCE: D.C. Department of Finance