The Right Note is a weekly opinion column published on Thursdays. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
Yesterday, Arlington County released its real estate assessments. Your tax bill is going up by roughly 5 percent unless the County Board reduces tax rates later this spring. You can look up your home’s assessment here if you want to see what it means to you.
Some may argue that the rise in assessments is good news because your home is now worth more. While true, and certainly helpful whenever you decide to sell your home, we all know that we pay these taxes while we live in our homes. So, the tax increase is effectively a tax on your income, which is one of the reasons you can deduct it from your federal tax return.
Back in November, county budget staff estimated real estate assessments would go up by 2.6 percent, leaving a $20-25 million so-called “budget gap.” They now believe that number is 5.8 percent — a dramatic increase that was clearly unexpected. County Manager Barbara Donnellan said yesterday the increase will narrow the “budget gap,” but the County still faces “pressures” for increased expenditures.
As I have previously written, the “budget gap” is essentially a myth. Every year in recent memory, Arlington County takes in excess revenue over and above the budget that is then spent, rather than returned to the taxpayers. It is spent to give the illusion that the County has spending “pressures” for the following year’s budget so that the Board can then raise our taxes again.
The bottom line is that no real spending cuts would be necessary to allow the County Board to simply hold the tax increase on homeowners to the 2.6 percent anticipated assessment increase level rather than 5.3 percent level. Unfortunately, no County Board member is likely to make that case.
This is because the pressures to spend more are the creation of County Board policies. And, the Board is planning to bring more of these pressures online by locking in huge future subsidies for both the trolley and the aquatics center. These ongoing subsidies will come out of the general fund and will be spent on these priorities rather than on roads or schools or public safety — just like they did for the Artisphere.
Not to worry, when the Board’s priorities run up against the “budget gap”, they will just raise the tax rate to pay for it. As long as Arlingtonians keep voting for people with the same priorities, the cycle will continue.
Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.