Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
A Washington Post story last week revealed that Arlington County’s property tax bills (as distinguished from Arlington County’s property tax rate) are at the very top of all localities in Northern Virginia.
A graphic accompanying the Post story compares average property tax bills from the respective NOVA jurisdictions. Arlington has surged to No. 1.
Arlington County Board members continually try to obscure this fact by boasting that Arlington’s property tax rate is in the middle of the NOVA pack or lower. Jay Fisette said this again in his 2014 New Year’s Day speech. The Post graphic confirms it.
However, the vast majority of Arlington’s property owners care about their bottom line — their property tax bills — not the property tax rate in isolation. If the property assessment system is working fairly, the County Board cannot directly control assessments. But, the Board can control our property tax bills by lowering the property tax rate. The Board did just that in the early part of the last decade.
This Board has made it very hard for itself to lower the property tax rate because of the Board’s own past misspending — and commitments for future misspending — on vanity projects like:
- a $310+ million unnecessary Columbia Pike streetcar,
- an $80+ million gold-plated Aquatics Center at Long Bridge Park,
- a $1 million bus stop, and
- a $1.7 million extravagant Clarendon dog park.
At the same time this Board is wasting our money on projects like these, it is not spending a large enough share of the tax money we provide for:
- reducing overcrowding in our public schools
- replacing our ancient water mains
- improving the “not good enough” condition of our roads
If the County Board were to lower the property tax rate for FY 2015, while at the same time pressing forward with its vanity projects, then funding for core services would suffer even more than such funding is suffering now. Alas, there is no sign that a majority of current County Board members intend to pull back from their commitments to their vanity projects.
Although we are not coming close to getting the value we deserve for our No. 1 ranking, I would not like to see this Board cut the property tax rate unless it simultaneously drops all of its vanity projects.
It’s time to alter the insular status quo on the current Board by electing new members whom we can confidently conclude will:
- vote to end wasteful spending on all vanity projects, and
- concentrate spending on core services.
Then we could get a break on our surging property tax bills.
Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.