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The Right Note: Home Values Up Means Higher Taxes

Mark KellyThe Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

This week’s announcement that residential real estate assessments are up again was not a surprise. The average homeowner will pay an additional 2.3% in taxes for 2017 unless the County Board reduces the tax rate.

This 2.3% assessment increase comes despite the average home sales price only ticking up by 0.3% in 2016 over 2015. Assessments increased by 2.8% in 2016 as well.

By way of further comparison, the average assessed value is now $617,200 which is still lower than the average sales price was $639,137. (The average sales price included new construction while the County’s assessed numbers only take existing homes into account).

So home values remain strong. In the short term, this is good for sellers and investors, but means more money out of your pocket again this year as a homeowner.

It is also “good news” for the County. In the press release announcing the assessment increase, County staff proceeded to make the case that they would need all of your extra money for Metro and schools.

The County is already making that case because the December budget planning forecast showed weaker numbers. When determining the mythical budget gap, they based their numbers on a 2.1% growth in total commercial and residential assessments.

Property values actually increased by 2.9% when you include new construction. Which means the County will now have just under 1% more from these sources to spend for FY 2018 than they anticipated just one month ago. That is a roughly $6 million increase in revenue.

It also means when the Board retroactively approves the tax rate levels later this spring, they will also have more revenue to spend in the closeout process at the end of this year.

How? Our fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30. However, every year when the Board approves the tax rate, it applies retroactively to January 1 in the previous fiscal year (current calendar year). So, half of the increased revenue for calendar year 2017 will be available during the closeout process.

The bottom line is County officials will use every part of the budget process available to them to try to maximize the amount of your tax dollars they can spend this year and next. And by telling you it is for schools and transportation, they are hoping you are happy to do it.

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