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by Ethan Rothstein — April 1, 2014 at 2:00 pm 0

Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) hosted an information briefing this morning on how low-income residents can file their taxes for free.

At the new Arlington Mill Community Center, Moran spoke briefly to a crowd of representatives from local nonprofits like Offender Aid and Restoration, AHC and from staffers at Arlington’s Department of Human Services, extolling the benefits of FreeFile, the free tax filing available to those who make $58,000 a year or less.

“The FreeFile program is a terrific example of how government and private businesses work together to help families take control of their finances,” Moran told the crowd of about 30. “Seventy percent of taxpayers in this country are eligible to file taxes for free.”

After Moran spoke, representatives from the IRS and the Intuit Tax Freedom Project walked those in attendance — at least two of whom wanted to electronically file their taxes on the spot — through the process. The talk was focused on not only saving low-income families money when filing, but making sure they understand potential refund money they’re entitled to.

“The Earned Income Tax Credit is the No. 1 poverty-fighting instrument in the world,” IRS Senior Tax Specialist Loren Johnson said.

Moran told ARLnow.com after his talk that despite the substantial average wealth of his constituents, he is still focused on making sure the financially struggling residents of the 8th Congressional District are as informed as possible two weeks before the April 15 filing deadline.

“We have thousands of people eligible for free filing who work hard, and they ought to be able to keep as much of their income as the law allows,” Moran said. “The representatives of the organizations here can now interpret what they learned to their constituents.”

by ARLnow.com — April 1, 2014 at 1:00 pm 736 0

Bobby Grohs CPAIt may be April Fools Day, but taxes are no joke — and the April 15 IRS filing deadline is almost here.

If you haven’t already, it’s time to get down to business and start filling out those forms. Luckily, if you have any last-minute tax questions, local tax guru Bobby Grohs is back today to offer some free advice.

Grohs, a Certified Public Accountant and University of Maryland grad, started Arlington-based Tax Matters LLC in 1998. He specializes in “comprehensive tax and consulting services for clients ranging from individual taxpayers, small businesses and nonprofits located throughout the greater Washington metropolitan area.”

Grohs will be answering you questions in the comment section until 3:00 p.m. If you’d like to reach him after the discussion is over, head to the Tax Matters website, email info@mytaxmatters.com or call 703-593-7391.

Please note that Mr. Grohs may not be able to answer every question asked.

Also, please note that in addition to our normal comment policy, we ask that questions and comments be of a civil tone. We welcome tough questions and critical comments, but anything of a mean-spirited nature will be removed.

The views and opinions expressed in the comments are those of their respective authors and not necessarily those of ARLnow.com.

by ARLnow.com — March 28, 2014 at 9:25 am 1,401 0

The moon and Venus over Long Bridge Park (Flickr pool photo by Joseph Gruber)

Opinions Split at Tax Hearing — The Arlington County Board’s public tax hearing last night was relatively short, about 30 minutes. Among the fewer than 10 speakers, opinions were split between those who want taxes to remain the same and those who want the tax rate to be lowered. [InsideNoVa]

GMU Pepper Spray Suspect Identified — The man who pepper sprayed a George Mason University law professor at the school’s Arlington campus on Wednesday has been identified as 31-year-old Jonathan Pendleton of Alexandria. The professor has been identified as economist and blogger Tyler Cowen. Pendleton left threatening comments on Cowen’s blog before the attack. [Huffington Post]

Arlington’s Population Grows — New U.S. Census figures indicate that Arlington’s population increased 3,631 last fiscal year. The county’s population, according to the Census Bureau, stands at 224,906 as of July 1, 2013. The Washington region as a whole ranked fifth for population growth among U.S. metropolitan regions. [Washington Post]

James Schlesinger Dies — Former defense and energy secretary James Schlesinger has died at the age of 85. Schlesinger was an Arlington resident. [Bloomberg]

Flickr pool photo by Joseph Gruber

by ARLnow.com — March 27, 2014 at 10:25 am 973 0

County Board budget hearing on 3/26/13The Arlington County Board will hold its annual public hearing on the county’s tax rate tonight (Thursday).

The hearing will start at 7:00 p.m. at the Arlington County Board offices at 2100 Clarendon Blvd. Residents can sign up to be one of the speakers commenting on the tax rate at the hearing.

County Manager Barbara Donnellan has proposed holding the property tax rate steady at $1.006 for every $100 in assessed value. Because the County Board advertised no change to the tax rate, it can now only set a tax rate at or below the current rate.

Nonetheless, numerous groups and individuals believe that the county should spend more on affordable housing, the social safety net and other priorities — spending that would require either cuts elsewhere or higher taxes. At the same time, some say the tax rate should be lowered.

If they could, would you support the County Board raising taxes?
 

by Ethan Rothstein — March 14, 2014 at 1:35 pm 879 0

View of Clarendon to Ballston from a commercial flight (Flickr pool photo by Ddimick)The Arlington County Board is mulling whether to expand the tax breaks it offers to large technology businesses in the county to tech firms with fewer than 100 employees.

Currently, technology firms located in the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, Crystal City, Columbia Pike and Shirlington only have to pay 50 percent or less of the county’s standard business license tax rate, 36-cent per $100 of gross receipts. For tech companies with between 500 and 999 employees, the rate is 14 cents. For tech companies with more than 1,000 employees, it falls farther to 10 cents.

Tech companies located along the Pike or in Shirlington have no minimum for the amount of employees to qualify for the reduced tax rate. However, in the R-B Corridor and Crystal City — the county’s two “Downtown Technology Zones” — tech firms must have at least 100 employees to pay the 18-cent rate. The County Board could approve waiving the minimum at its meeting this Saturday.

In addition, the Board will vote on whether to expand the parameters for a technology company to qualify for the tax breaks. The ordinance lists a broad range of eligible businesses, but since it was last updated seven years ago, firms in new sectors — the main one being social media — have been left out.

“The fundamentals of the local real estate market have changed,” the staff report, prepared by Arlington Economic Development, states. “Today tenants may choose among more available spaces and sites than ever before. Large deals may come about, but more often an assortment of small and medium deals is required to fill buildings. In many cases, the smaller firms have the most growth potential. They are expanding in a variety of digital economy and creative enterprises such as e-democracy, social media and healthcare data services.”

AED said there have been 12 instances where a tech company that was ineligible for the Technology Zone tax breaks did not choose Arlington to locate. Ten of those instances, the company was smaller than 100 employees.

If the changes are approved, the savings for tech companies in the R-B corridor would amount to approximately $2.25 per square foot of rent for office space, AED estimates.

“While this may not change a business decision on its own, it could be effective in combination with other forms of assistance the County and Commonwealth may provide, or it may help close the gap in rent or other expenses between Arlington and another jurisdiction,” the staff report reads. “AED estimates that — with the proposed changes in place — between five and 10 companies per year may qualify for this incentive.”

Flickr pool photo by Ddimick

by ARLnow.com — March 13, 2014 at 10:45 am 1,268 0

Personal property tax envelopeArlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan released her mid-year review of Fiscal Year 2014 earlier this week, and it’s generally good news for the county.

County staff is projecting that Arlington will collect $20.8 million more in taxes than originally budgeted for, led by a $23.4 million increase in real estate tax revenue. Another bright spot an additional $3 million from personal property taxes.  The increases are due to higher-than-expected real estate assessments and strong new car sales and used car values, according to Donnellan.

Some county revenue is lower than expected, however. Sales taxes are projected to be down $2.6 million, hotel taxes are down $2.1 million, fines are down $2 million and cigarette and communication taxes are both down $300,000.

Donnellan’s memo to the County Board blames the federal government shutdown for the lower sales and hotel tax revenue. The decrease in fines is largely due to “parking ticket revenue declines.”

Given additional savings found in county expenditures, Arlington estimates it has an additional $27.6 million available. Of that, $9.6 million will be transferred to Arlington Public Schools, $12.3 million is to be used as one-time funding in Donnellan’s proposed FY 2015 budget, and $5.7 million is unallocated.

The one-time funding included in Donnellan’s budget includes:

  • $2.8 million — Affordable Housing Investment Fund
  • $3 million — Paving
  • $1 million — Facilities maintenance
  • $1 million — Parks maintenance
  • $1 million — Transportation maintenance
  • $1.5 million — Technology capital investment
  • $1.5 million — Park lands acquisition

Public hearings on the new county budget are scheduled for March 25 and 27. The new fiscal year starts July 1.

by ARLnow.com — March 3, 2014 at 1:30 pm 1,670 0

Restaurants on Wilson Blvd in ClarendonArlington County will review the big jump in commercial real estate assessments in Clarendon first reported by ARLnow.com last week.

The county said Friday evening that it will take a look at “all commercial real property assessments with a 50% or greater increase from calendar year 2013.”

There are nearly 90 such properties, including Rien Tong restaurant (3131 Wilson Blvd), which saw its assessment increase 197 percent, and Spider Kelly’s (3171 Wilson Blvd), which saw its property valuation increase 83 percent.

The assessments are updated annually and used to calculate county property taxes.

“A small number of commercial property owners did see substantially increased assessments, and this review is meant to correct any mistakes that may have been made,” said county finance director Michelle Cowan, in a press release, below.

Arlington County has begun a review of all commercial real property assessments with a 50% or greater increase from calendar year 2013, including several parcels in the Clarendon area that saw significant increases.

The review will affect fewer than 90 properties, of approximately 3,300 total commercial parcels.  Both the original assessments, and the underlying data for each of the affected properties, will be re-examined to determine whether the assessment should be sustained or changed.

“A small number of commercial property owners did see substantially increased assessments, and this review is meant to correct any mistakes that may have been made,” said Dept. of Management and Finance Director Michelle Cowan. “We want to ensure fair and equitable assessments for all property owners.”

Arlington’s Real Estate Assessment office is mailing letters to property owners of all properties whose assessments increased 50% or more. Upon conclusion of the administrative review by the County, property owners will still have the ability to appeal their assessment through the Board of Equalization. It is anticipated that the County’s administrative review will take 30-45 days. 

Overall, commercial assessments, which include office buildings, apartments, hotels and retail, grew 5.4 percent over CY 2013, primarily fueled by new construction and strength in apartment properties due to rising rents. The specific parcels that were questioned in the Clarendon area fall into the general commercial category class, which includes retail and other types of properties, excluding office buildings and apartments. The general commercial assessment category increased by 12.4 percent over CY 2013.

Assessments for most commercial properties are based on an income approach and evaluate how much income a property would produce if it were rented as an apartment, store, factory, etc. This approach considers operating expenses, taxes, insurance, maintenance costs, and the profits most people would expect from the rental. The net income after operational costs, plus a capitalization rate, determines the assessment value. It is not based on the profitability of a particular business; rather the assessment value is based on the rents and expenses of the property and building in which the business is located.

by ARLnow.com — February 26, 2014 at 10:25 am 5,275 0

Rien Tong in Clarendon(Updated at 1:20 p.m.) Real estate assessments for numerous Clarendon restaurants skyrocketed this year, with little explanation as to why.

Long-time businesses, which have not been renovated or sold recently, saw their assessments increase by double digit or even triple digit percentages. The rise in assessments could mean the owners will be forced to pay tens of thousands in additional county taxes this year, barring a successful appeal.

The biggest increase spotted by ARLnow.com was that of Rien Tong Restaurant (3131 Wilson Blvd). The Asian eatery, located across from the Clarendon Metro station, saw its assessment jump from $559,900 to $1,667,600, a nearly 200 percent increase that would result in an extra $12,528 in taxes.

Restaurants on Wilson Blvd in ClarendonThe assessment for Kabob Bazaar (3133 Wilson Blvd), directly adjacent to Rien Tong in a nearly identical storefront, also increased but not as dramatically. The restaurant’s assessment increased from $635,500 to $840,700, a 32 percent rise.

The biggest tax increase as a result of higher assessments goes to Spider Kelly’s (3171 Wilson Blvd), which saw its property valuation increase 83 percent to $5.1 million. The added tax yearly bill: $26,428.

With the exception of Revolution Cycles (2727 Wilson Blvd), which had its building assessment increase 64 percent to $3.8 million, and Azure Day Spa (2420 Wilson Blvd), which increased 55 percent to $1.9 million, the businesses impacted were primarily Clarendon restaurants.

Other big increases include Eventide (39 percent), Clarendon Ballroom (50 percent), Hard Times Cafe and Delhi Club (50 percent), Boccato Gelato (71 percent), Whitlow’s (24 percent), Faccia Luna and Boulevard Woodgrill (56 percent). By comparison, the Clarendon Whole Foods store at 2700 Wilson Blvd saw no increase in its assessment.

Several restaurant owners contacted ARLnow.com about the higher assessments.

“There’s some funny business going on here,” one said, on the condition of anonymity. “This is a money grab, pure and simple.”

Arlington County Director of Communications Diana Sun says that the businesses in question are typically assessed based on a method that takes a look at the income generated by each property. That, however, can’t fully explain the increases.

“Clearly there were some that just look like an anomaly,” she said.

Sun encouraged business owners who think their assessments this year were unjust to file an administrative appeal before the March 3 deadline. Such an appeal could result in a new inspection of the property and a lower assessment. After March 3, or after an unsatisfactory result from an administrative appeal, any appeals must be filed with the county’s Board of Equalization.

The unknowns involved in filing an appeal still have some business owners on edge.

“I have to hire a lawyer now,” one told ARLnow.com “I’m pretty pissed off about it.”

by ARLnow.com — February 24, 2014 at 5:00 pm 1,006 0

arlington-va-logoThe Arlington County Board on Saturday voted to advertise no increase to the county’s real estate tax rate.

That means that the tax rate can only go down or remain the same ($1.006 for every $100 in assessed value) in the Board’s budget, which will be crafted over the next two months before final approval on April 22.

Two residential fees, meanwhile — the water-sewer rate and the household solid waste rate — are proposed to increase 3.4 and 2.4 percent respectively in County Manager Barbara Donnellan’s budget, which will be used as a jumping off point by the Board.

In all, thanks to a 5.9 percent increase in residential property assessments, the total tax and fee burden on the average Arlington household is expected to increase by $368, or 5.3 percent, to $7,371 if the Board follows Donnellan’s proposal to hold the real estate tax rate steady.

Additional information on the budget and the budget process can be found in our previous article and on the county website.

by ARLnow.com — February 21, 2014 at 11:50 am 1,660 0

County Manager Barbara Donnellan presents her FY 2014 budget on Feb. 20, 2013Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan’s new proposed budget will hold tax rates steady, but would still result in a higher tax bill for residents.

Donnellan is proposing no increase in real estate and stormwater management tax rates, which impact homeowners. The combined tax rate would remain $1.006 for every $100 in assessed value.

There will be modest increases in waste collection and water and sewer fees, plus a $0.25 increase in ART bus fares and a $0.50 increase in some STAR fares.

With Arlington residential property assessments rising 5.9 percent this year (5.3 percent for single family homes), homeowners will pay more in taxes under Donnellan’s budget, despite tax rates holding steady. The average Arlington household will pay $7,371 in county taxes and fees, a $368 or 5.3 percent increase over last year.

Arlington’s general fund spending would increase $28.4 million, or 2.6 percent, to $1.12 billion under Donnellan’s budget. That includes $687.7 million for county government operations, a $11.9 million or 1.8 percent increase, and $432.2 million for Arlington Public Schools, a $19.6 million or 4.7 percent increase.

Among the areas of higher spending proposed by Donnellan are:

  • $5.2 million for county employee salary increases
  • $600,000 for a half year of operations of the new Homeless Services Center
  • An additional $3.5 million for street paving, bringing the total paving funding to $11.1 million
  • A 7.5 percent increase in the county’s health care costs
  • A 1 percent increase in grants to nonprofits from the Department of Human Services
  • Three additional School Resource Officers
  • Additional funding for streetlights and traffic engineering
  • A dedicated “principal planner” for Crystal City

Other budget priorities identified by Donnellan include investments in encouraging cybersecurity companies to move to Arlington; technology investments like a “pay by cell” parking system; and growing the county’s “BizLaunch” business assistance program.

Affordable housing investments accounts for $34.3 million in local tax dollars — 5.1 percent of the county’s general fund budget (excluding schools). That includes contributions to the Affordable Housing Investment Fund, housing grants and funding for the rapid re-housing program.

Despite this year’s snowy winter, there is no change proposed for the county’s snow removal budget. Donnellan, however, said that the county is studying whether changes are necessary to the county’s snow removal operation.

Donnellan will present her proposed budget at Saturday’s County Board meeting. The County Board will begin holding work sessions on the budget next week. Public hearings on the budget and tax rates are scheduled for March 25 and 27. Final budget adoption is scheduled for April 22.

Following budget adoption, from May to July, Arlington will go through its Capital Improvement Plan process, where spending plans for major projects, like the Columbia Pike streetcar, are set.

by ARLnow.com — February 18, 2014 at 1:00 pm 1,610 0

Bobby Grohs CPAWe’re now less than two months away from the April 15 IRS tax filing deadline.

If you want to get a head start on your taxes, instead of waiting until the minute, Bobby Grohs — who does our taxes — is back again to give some free tax-related advice.

A Certified Public Accountant and University of Maryland grad, Grohs started Arlington-based Tax Matters LLC in 1998. He specializes in “comprehensive tax and consulting services for clients ranging from individual taxpayers, small businesses and nonprofits located throughout the greater Washington metropolitan area.”

Grohs will be answering you questions in the comment section until 3:00 p.m. If you’d like to reach him after the discussion is over, head to the Tax Matters website, email info@mytaxmatters.com or call 703-593-7391.

(more…)

by Ethan Rothstein — January 28, 2014 at 11:30 am 582 0

State Sen. Adam EbbinA bill restoring Virginians’ ability to receive their tax refunds in paper check form could be on its way to pass the General Assembly this session.

The legislation, introduced by Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30), passed the state Senate Jan. 20 by a unanimous 38-0 vote — the Senate is missing two votes until new Lt. Governor Ralph Northam and Attorney General’s Mark Herring’s seats are filled via special election — and is waiting to be considered by the House of Delegates Finance Committee.

As of January 2013, the state started only doling out tax rebates via direct deposit or a debit card, which comes with associated costs, like ATM and transaction fees. The Senate Finance Committee voted to abolish the debit card option altogether if the bill is signed into law.

“Taxpayers deserve the convenience of receiving their refunds in the form they prefer,” Ebbin said in a press release after the bill passed the Senate. “By contrast, the debit card system was fraught with fees and was not consumer-friendly. Taxpayers were even charged for withdrawing funds from an in-network ATM. I’m glad the Senate recognizes the need for reform.”

The bill states that, if the taxpayer doesn’t indicate which payment method he prefers between direct deposit and a mailed check, a check will be mailed to the provided address. If the bill passes, it would go into effect for taxes collected this year, meaning taxes filed by April 15, 2015.

File photo

by ARLnow.com — January 22, 2014 at 1:00 pm 1,988 0

Arlington County real estate assessmentProperty values in Arlington rose significantly over the past year despite high office vacancy rates.

Arlington County said today that its overall 2014 real estate assessments rose 5.8 percent. The growth was “fueled primarily by strength in the residential market, as well as new construction of commercial properties,” the county said.

The assessments for residential properties — single-family homes, condos and townhouses — rose 5.3 percent, to an average of $552,700.

Commercial real estate assessments were the biggest surprise, rising 5.4 percent over Calendar Year 2013. County staff projected in November that commercial assessments would be flat.

In addition to new construction, the county said that apartment and retail properties helped lead the growth in the commercial sector. Apartment assessments rose 4.8 percent while general commercial properties (retail) increased more than 10 percent. Office property values “rose slightly.”

Last year, residential property assessments increased 1 percent while commercial property assessments declined by 0.5 percent.

With real estate assessments up 5.8 percent this year, over the 2.6 percent projection, the county should get some welcome wiggle room for its upcoming Fiscal Year 2015 budget. This fall county staff projected a $20-25 million budget gap. The county says it still expects to face a budget gap, but didn’t list any specific projections.

“We are grateful that Arlington continues to show resilience and stability, despite ongoing tensions in the larger economy,” said Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan, in a press release. “I am pleased the budget gap is narrowed, but we still face expenditure pressures for both County and Schools.”

The County Board instructed Donnellan to come up with a budget that does not raise tax rates. The higher assessments, however, will serve as a defacto tax hike if rates remain the same — $1.006 per $100 of assessed value.

The county press release says rising school enrollment in particular is putting pressure on county finances.

Arlington also faces a number of expenditure pressures, especially to support aging County infrastructure and Arlington’s population growth. For Fiscal Year (FY) 2015, the pressures include health care, retirement costs, new facilities and contractual cost increases, including Metro. Meanwhile, the County continues to invest in current and new infrastructure to maintain the high quality of services that are important to the long-term sustainability of the County.

Arlington’s largest expense is Arlington Public Schools, which represents approximately 45.6% of local tax revenue, and an investment of more than $18,000 per student. Continued year-over-year growth in school enrollment has put pressure on School facilities and educational costs.

As revenue is again expected to be less than projected expenditures, both the County and Schools will need to determine their priorities within these fiscal constraints. The County Manager and School Superintendent will present their proposed budgets to the County Board and School Board in late February. The County Board will set the real estate tax rate in April.

The real estate assessments were mailed today to property owners and are expected to be available online at 11:00 p.m.

by ARLnow.com — January 15, 2014 at 1:00 pm 1,388 0

Bobby Grohs CPAWant to get a head start on your taxes rather than wait until the last minute?

It’s a good decision — by getting started now can avoid some headaches as the April 15 IRS tax filing deadline approaches.

For those early birds out there, local tax guru Bobby Grohs is back to dispense free tax-related advice.

A Certified Public Accountant and University of Maryland grad, Grohs started Arlington-based Tax Matters LLC in 1998. He specializes in “comprehensive tax and consulting services for clients ranging from individual taxpayers, small businesses and nonprofits located throughout the greater Washington metropolitan area.”

Grohs will be answering you questions in the comment section until 3:00 p.m. If you’d like to reach him after the discussion is over, head to the Tax Matters website, email info@mytaxmatters.com or call 703-593-7391.

(more…)

by Katie Pyzyk — December 12, 2013 at 12:00 pm 730 0

Volunteer Arlington logoDuring the holiday season, the need for volunteers is especially high, but it continues beyond the holidays as well.

There’s an immediate need for people to help this week with sorting and distributing donated coats, or next week with distributing donated children’s holiday gifts. In the coming months, people are asked to help out with tasks like income tax preparation.

Numerous opportunities can be found on the Volunteer Arlington website, such as the following:

  • Children’s Gift Distribution — Volunteers have already sorted most of the donated children’s gifts for the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree holiday program, but help is needed for distributing the items. Distribution takes place next Wednesday, December 18. Volunteers must be at least 13 years old, and those between the ages of 13 and 16 must be accompanied by an adult. Contact Luisa Slay at 703-979-3380 or online.
  • Coat Drive Distribution — Nauck Community Services Center has collected hundreds of coats and had them cleaned, and now volunteers are needed from 7:00-9:00 p.m. this Friday, December 13, to help sort the items. Volunteers are also needed from 8:00-10:00 a.m. this Saturday, November 14, to help neighbors in need pick out the perfect coat for themselves and family members. Contact Bri Sheffey at 703-229-5650 or online.
  • Ship Bicycles to Africa — Bikes for the World is looking for people to help load hundreds of donated bikes and bike parts into 40 foot shipping containers. The items are used for health, education and jobs programs in Africa. Training will be provided. A number of dates are available over the next few months. Contact Yvette Hess at 703-740-7856 or online.
  • Income Tax Assistance — Volunteers are requested by the DC EITC Campaign for helping people with income tax preparation early next year. A number of positions exist, including tax preparer, client coordinator, greeter and savings promoter. Training will take place in January and helpers must pass an IRS volunteer test. Shifts vary throughout the 2014 tax season. Contact Elizabeth Rosenberg at 202-547-7773 or online.
  • Tutor Young Adults — Helpers are needed for assisting students in trying to earn their high school diplomas. Communities in Schools of Northern Virginia requests tutors to work on-site at a local high school to assist students with English, reading, science or math. A commitment of 2-10 hours per week is required. All tutors must be 18 or older and have a high school diploma. Volunteers must also complete a background check. Contact Daphne Charles at 703-228-8694 or online.
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