A General Assembly bill which would give two exclusive Arlington golf clubs a break on property taxes is “a dangerous precedent,” the Arlington County Board said Tuesday in a letter asking Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam to veto the measure.
The bill, sponsored by Del. Timothy D. Hugo (R-Fairfax), orders Arlington to change the way it assesses property taxes on the 630 acres at the Washington Golf and Country Club and the Army Navy Country Club, which would result in lower taxes for the private organizations and the loss of $1.43 million in tax revenue to the county.
“In an effort to provide preferential tax treatment to two golf clubs in Arlington, the bill conflicts with the Constitution and Code of Virginia, sets a dangerous precedent for real property tax assessment decisions to be made in Richmond instead of at the local level, and undermines state laws related to the preservation of open space,” the unanimous board said in a letter sent Tuesday.
The bill, HB1204, passed both houses in the General Assembly this winter and is awaiting Northam’s signature. His press secretary, Ofirah Yheskel, said “The governor is still determining what his final action on the legislation will be. He would urge both sides to come together to find a solution that doesn’t involve the state legislature.”
The dispute stems from a long-running conflict between Arlington and the well-connected golfers of the two courses. Arlington assesses the property based on its fair-market value as “large-acreage parcels” at $12 per square foot, compared to nearby residential land that is assessed at between $72 and $100 per square foot.
Hugo’s bill dropped the tax rate to about 50 cents per square foot, saying that the land should be assessed as open space as some golf courses in other counties are.
The County Board objected, saying in its letter, that the bill “is a dangerous intrusion” into what has traditionally been a local decision, and it “sets a dangerous precedent” that the General Assembly will become the way for “preferred property owners” to get tax breaks “under the pretense of equity.”
The clubs have challenged their assessments before the local board of equalization and circuit court several times, but they complain that they have to challenge each year’s tax bill because the county refuses to alter its assessment process, and that’s why they turned to the state legislature.
The county said it is in settlement discussions with both clubs and proposed a revised way of valuing the properties. Its letter said it was “confident” that it could reach a resolution before the 2019 General Assembly session.