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Garvey Floats Potential of Tax Rate Cut

The Arlington County Board voted yesterday to advertise a maximum tax rate that will, at most, keep the current rate steady.

The action comes amid rising property assessments that will buoy county coffers and help support County Manager Mark Schwartz’s proposed 2.9% increase in spending without a rate hike.

Arlington’s rosier financial picture, with the ongoing arrival of Amazon’s HQ2, was enough to have Schwartz smiling during a recent budget presentation, touting “a good budget year.” And it might be enough to even support a tax cut.

Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey pointedly floated the idea of bringing down the current $1.013 per $100 rate in her remarks yesterday.

“This year’s higher assessments mean that even without an increase in the tax rate, most homeowners still would see the biggest jump in their real estate taxes since 2016,” said Garvey, who’s facing a primary challenge this year. “Facing that reality, we will certainly be looking for ways to adopt a lower rate than what we have advertised today when we finalize the budget in April.”

The rise in assessments — 4.3% for residential properties and 4.9% for commercial properties — means more tax revenue, but also a higher tax burden on property owners.

“With no increase in the property tax rate, the County expects $51.1 million in additional ongoing revenue,” a county press release noted. “Should the Board adopt the current tax rate and other proposed fee increases, the average Arlington homeowner would see their fees and taxes increase by $376 from what they paid in FY 2020, based on a home value of $686,300.”

Last year, amid budget pressures, the County Board voted for a 2 cent tax rate increase.

Among neighboring jurisdictions in Northern Virginia, Alexandria and Prince William have both proposed 2 cent property tax rate increases this year, Loudoun has proposed a 1 cent reduction, and Fairfax County just proposed a 3 cent hike. Arlington’s rate is currently the lowest of the group.

Despite Fairfax’s proposed 3 cent hike, the increase in taxes on the average homeowner would actually be lower than that in Arlington with no tax rate change here — $376 vs. $346. Residential property assessments in Fairfax rose an average of 2.65% this year.

As part of the annual budget process, the Arlington County Board will now hold a series of work sessions and public hearings, before a final vote on the FY 2021 budget on Saturday, April 18.

More on the Board’s tax rate advertisement vote, via the county press release, below after the jump.

The Arlington County Board today, citing increased assessments and increased revenues, voted not to increase the real estate tax rate for Calendar Year 2021.

The Board voted 4-0 to advertise a tax rate of $1.013 per $100 of assessed value for Calendar Year 2020 ($1.026 including stormwater). By law, the Board can adopt a tax rate no higher than the advertised rate, although it may adopt a lower rate.

With no increase in the property tax rate, the County expects $51.1 million in additional ongoing revenue. Should the Board adopt the current tax rate and other proposed fee increases, the average Arlington homeowner would see their fees and taxes increase by $376 from what they paid in FY 2020, based on a home value of $686,300.

“The Board appreciates that the Manager has followed our guidance and proposed a budget that is able to provide more funding for affordable housing, schools, and stormwater management, and restore some cuts made during the worst of the Great Recession, with no increase in the real estate tax rate,” Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey said. “Now it is the Board’s turn to carefully review the budget, hear from the public, and work with Schools to close their expected budget gap.

“This year’s higher assessments mean that even without an increase in the tax rate, most homeowners still would see the biggest jump in their real estate taxes since 2016,” Garvey said. “Facing that reality, we will certainly be looking for ways to adopt a lower rate than what we have advertised today when we finalize the budget in April.”

Board advertises proposed fee increases
The Board approved advertising all tax rates at the current rate, along with increases to several fees after the Manager formally presented his proposed $1.40 billion General Fund Fiscal Year 2021 Budget. The Manager’s proposed budget includes a 2.9 percent increase in ongoing and one-time spending over FY 2020. Close to 40 percent of the proposed budget ($550 million) would fund Arlington Public Schools (APS).

Background

In November 2019, the Manager projected no budget gap with revenue growth of three to four percent for FY 2021. The Manager cited increased real estate assessments, growth in business taxes, and cost efficiencies as helping to improve the County’s overall financial picture, but cautioned that spending pressures are coming from Metro, affordable housing, employee compensation, stormwater, and schools.

Next steps

The Board will review the Manager’s proposed budget through a series of work sessions with the Manager, County departments and County advisory commissions in the coming weeks. The work sessions will be held in the County Board Room on the third floor of the Ellen M. Bozman Government Center, 2100 Clarendon Blvd. All work sessions are open to the public and will be live-streamed on the County website and broadcast on the County’s cable channel.

The Board will hold a public hearing on the budget at 7 p.m. on March 31. You can sign up to speak at this hearing from 8 a.m. five days in advance.

The Board will hold a public hearing on the proposed tax rate at 7 p.m. on April 2. You can sign up sign-up online to speak at this hearing from 8 a.m. five days in advance.

Both hearings will be held in the Board Room and will be live-streamed on the County website. The Board will adopt the FY 2020 Budget at its April meeting. The FY 2020 fiscal year begins July 1, 2020. To view the Manager’s complete FY 2021 Budget proposal, visit the County website.

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