There once was a time when the real-estate assessors didn't get around much in this city --sometimes not for 20 or 30 years in certain neighborhoods. Indeed, 22 years ago in this space, we were observing that "District citizens, as well as members of Congress, have an interest in a prompt reassessment of taxable real estate here. The central fact is that reassessments have not kept pace with changing values." Well, that's not the case anymore, as today's property owners are finding out -- the hard way. The most recently reassessed single-family properties received increases in assessments that average 42 per cent.

It won't make them feel any better to realize that, even after these staggering increases, their properties may still be assessed below actual market prices. The market has been busy. That's fine when it comes time to sell, but right now these increases, at the current tax rate, may result in severe financial pressures on too many homeowners.

City council member Marion Barry, who heads the council's finance and revenue committee, was quick to register his determination to enact some tax relief. Initially, he suggested as one possible measure a 9-cent reduction in the property-tax rate, to $1.74 per $100 of assessed value.

Mayor Washington, sensing the intense community interest in this issue, came up with his own proposal, to drop the rate to $1.76 -- but on a one-year-only basis. This wouldn't exactly bowl over taxpayers with rebates; the owner of a home assessed at $50,000 would get a $35 break -- paying $880 instead of $915. (In many cases, that same home was previously assessed at $30,000, which means the tax bill would still be going up from last year by $331).

Mr. Barry has yet a later proposal for consideration by the council. He has suggested that all owners of four or fewer single-family units be allowed to deduct $6,000 from their assessments before the current $1.83 would apply. This measure, cosponsored by all members of the finance and revenue committee, is progressive: The effective rate for the owner of a $30,000 home would thus be $1.46, and for someone with a $50,000 home, it would be $1.61.

This particular proposal would apply only to homes, not to commercial property. Other proposals being considered include a system whereby land would be taxed on its value as a site rather than on the use to which it is being put. There are also proposals for across-the-board increments in assessments to cover some market inflation, but with future major changes to be applied only when a home is sold.

This variety of proposals, along with still other measures to provide greater tax credits for low-income residents, will be subject to a public hearing scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday, May 10, in city hall. For those taxpayers who feel particularly pinched by the new assessments, this is a chance to say so.