Springfield-based Express Homebuyers sent a letter to Arlington homeowners claiming they owed real estate taxes to the county. The letter then offers to buy the recipient’s home to help pay the tax debt.
The Treasurer’s Office released the following statement about the letter Monday afternoon:
“We have recently become aware that many Arlington County homeowners have received correspondence from Jud Allen of Express Homebuyers, falsely claiming that these owners owe real estate taxes and that the County may take their homes away from them due to delinquent taxes.
Please be assured that, unless you have heard directly from the Arlington County Treasurer, you do not owe delinquent real estate taxes and there is no risk of the County taking or selling your home.
If you have any questions about this letter, or would like to report having received this letter, please call us at (703) 228-3090.”
(Updated at 5:05 p.m.) Arlington officials are anticipating “moderate” revenue growth in 2017 due to increases in residential real estate assessments, as predicted earlier this fall.
The County Board will review these increases — as outlined in the County Manager’s Fiscal Year 2017 budget guidance — at its meeting this Thursday, kicking off the county’s annual budgetary process.
Increases in the real estate assessments for single-family homes, townhouses and condos will provide the county with most of its revenue growth. On average, such assessments are expected to rise 3 percent, causing tax bills for Arlington residents to increase by approximately $175 at current tax rates.
Assessments for commercial real estate, however, are expected to remain flat or turn slightly negative “due to vacancy rates in office buildings and the slowing demand in multi-family residential.” Commercial property taxes are half of Arlington County’s tax base, and by staying flat or going negative it will “shift the tax burden to the average homeowner.”
Overall, tax revenue is expected to increase between 1.9 and 2.4 percent in FY 2017. Aside from real estate taxes, the projected growth in other county tax revenue includes:
- Personal property/vehicle tax: +0.1 percent
- Sales tax: +1.9 percent
- Meals tax: +6.2 percent
- Transient occupancy/hotel tax: +7.9 percent
Revenue from taxes categorized in the budge guidance as “other” is also expected to increase 4.2 percent because of rising bank stock and residential utility tax rates. Cigarette taxes are expected to decrease, and all other taxes not specifically listed should remain flat.
Predicted expenditures will also be discussed on Thursday as part of the budget guidance. The county is expected to spend 1.8 percent more on personnel, including salaries and healthcare. It also expects to spend 3.3 percent more on the Metro and 3.2 percent more on debt service than last year.
The county shares 46.5 percent of all local tax revenue with Arlington Public Schools. Given that revenue split, current tax rates, planned one-time outlays and budgetary projections, county government is expected to face a $1-3 million funding gap during FY 2017, while schools may face a deficit of more than $12 million.
Thursday’s meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the County Board Room at 2100 Clarendon Blvd, Room 307.
A joint Arlington County-APS public budget forum is scheduled from 6:30-9 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 7, at Washington-Lee High School.
Murder Victim Feared Her Estranged Husband — Bonnie Black, who was found dead in her home in the Aurora Highlands neighborhood on April 17, feared her estranged husband, court documents show. After months of continuing to live in the neighborhood a free man during the investigation, David Black is now in jail, charged with murder. [NBC Washington]
Wakefield, W-L Fall in Football Playoffs — The playoff runs for the Wakefield and Washington-Lee high school football teams have ended early. Wakefield could’t hang on to a 6-0 lead at halftime, falling to Potomac Falls 21-6, while W-L lost 44-20 to Westfield. [InsideNova, Washington Post]
Arlington Wants I-66 Widening Delayed — This week the Arlington County Board is scheduled to decide its position on the plan for tolling on I-66. At its Saturday meeting the Board made clear that it wants to delay the widening of the highway as long as possible. Meanwhile, responding to questions from county officials, VDOT says it’s not able to fully enforce existing HOV restrictions on I-66 because the enforcement causes significant traffic delays. Nearly half of the clogged rush hour traffic on I-66 is believed to be HOV rule breakers. [WTOP, WTOP]
County May Ask for Paper, Plastic Bag Tax Authority — Despite failing efforts in previous years, Arlington County’s draft legislative agenda seeks to again ask the Virginia General Assembly for the authority to levy a small tax on single-use paper and plastic bags. The proposal may exempt bags for certain items, like newspapers, dry cleaning and prescription drugs. [InsideNova]
Historic House for Sale — A 145-year-old house known as “The Hill” is now for sale in Arlington’s Old Glebe neighborhood. Originally a summer home for a prominent D.C. family, the four-bedroom house is on the market for $1,568,000. [Preservation Arlington]
Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick
County to Invest $55 Million in Ballston Mall — Arlington County is planning its first-ever Tax Increment Financing district to help fund the renovations to Ballston Common Mall. Arlington plans to invest $45 million in the mall with its TIF, which will be repaid over time via increased tax revenue from the property. It also plans to make $10 million in transportation improvements, including improvements to the attached county parking garage and the narrowing of Willson Blvd in front of the mall. [Washington Business Journal]
Arlington May Ask for Jefferson Davis Hwy Renaming — Arlington County is considering asking local state legislators to seek a name change for Jefferson Davis Highway in Arlington. Also known as Route 1, the highway is named after the Confederate president thanks to state legislative decree in 1922. A draft of the 2016 Arlington legislative priorities list includes a proposal to rename “the Arlington portion of Jefferson Davis Highway in a way that is respectful to all who live and work along it.” [InsideNova]
Room For Economic Improvement — Arlington County’s building approval process remains cumbersome and overly time consuming, and the county lacks the kind of incentive resources — “weapons” — that other jurisdictions have for economic development. That’s according to Arlington Economic Development Director Victor Hoskins, at a recent panel discussion. [Washington Business Journal]
Per-Student Spending Down — Arlington County’s per-student spending is down to $18,616, from $19,040 last year, according to the Washington Area Board of Education. Arlington still has the highest per-student spending of any suburban Washington school system. [InsideNova]
Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley
“In the event that you are waiting for your account to be adjusted or closed, please be sure to avoid late payment penalty by paying the balance by Oct. 5,” the county said in a statement. “Any overpayment will be refunded once your account has been adjusted.”
The county charges a personal property tax on all vehicles regularly parked overnight in Arlington, including cars, motorcycles, buses and boats.
“All cities and counties in Virginia have a personal property tax which helps fund local government,” the county said.
The Treasurer’s Office collects real estate taxes in two installments — the first is collected on July 15 and the second on Oct. 5.
“Real estate taxes support schools, fire and police protection, and other public services and benefits afforded to County residents,” the county said. “You help absorb these costs in proportion to the amount of money your property is worth.”
Residents who have questions about their bills can contact the Treasurer’s Office by emailing [email protected] or calling 703-228-4000.
Virginians are getting a break from the sales tax this weekend courtesy of Virginia’s General Assembly, which combined three existing sales tax holidays into one longer Tax-Free Weekend this year, according to the Virginia Department of Taxation.
According to the department, items exempt from the sales tax this weekend include school supplies, clothing and footwear, emergency preparedness items and some energy-efficient home appliances with either the Energy Star or WaterSense label.
Included in the list of exemptions are back-to-school staples like backpacks, calculators, flash drives and composition notebooks, as well as a variety of sports and recreational equipment.
For items that do not qualify for the sales tax exemption, store owners may still offer them as tax-free by choosing to have the store absorb the cost of the sales tax on behalf of the consumer.
Photo via pixabay.com
There are actually two hurricane tax holidays this year. The first tax holiday is May 25-31, which has been declared Hurricane and Flooding Preparedness Week by Gov. Terry McAuliffe. The second is Aug. 7-9.
After 2015, there will only be one holiday in August. The Virginia General Assembly voted to combine three hurricane preparedness tax holidays into one three-day period. However, the bill goes into effect on July 1, 2015, which means the planned tax holiday from May 25-31 was unaffected.
The 2015 Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30, according to the National Weather Service. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will release its predictions for the 2015 hurricane season at 10:30 a.m. today.
Among the list of items exempt from tax are supplies under $60, including bottled water and batteries, generators under $1,000 and chainsaws under $350. Food and candles are not exempt.
While inland, Arlington is not immune to the impacts of Atlantic hurricanes. The county saw plenty of wind and rain from Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and more significant damage from Hurricane Irene in 2011.
(Updated at 1:20 p.m.) The Artisphere cultural center in Rosslyn will close and Arlington’s property tax rate will stay the same under the new Fiscal Year 2016 budget approved unanimously by the Arlington County Board last night.
The $1.16 billion budget will provide Arlington Public Schools with the extra $6.2 million it sought to deal with rising enrollment.
It also will fund a new internal auditor position, a campaign promise of County Board member John Vihstadt.
Other budget highlights include:
- An additional $1.4 million for economic development efforts, including an extra $200,000 for TandemNSI, $200,000 for tourism promotion and an extra $100,000 for the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization
- Five new sheriff deputy positions
- Salary supplement for the public defender’s office
- Additional jail-based mental health services
- An additional animal control officer for the Animal Welfare League of Arlington
- Funding for Affordable Housing Investment Fund remains steady at $12.5 million
- An additional $1 million for housing grants, for a total of $8.9 in housing grant funding
- The county manager’s proposed cuts to BikeArlington were eliminated. Funding for county bike and pedestrian programs remains at $812,121.
- A merit compentation increase for employees
- Funding restored to the “Live Where You Work” program for county employees
Under the budget, Arlington’s real estate tax rate will stay at $0.996 per $100 in assessed value. However, due to the 4.9 percent rise in residential property assessments and a 1.8 percent increase in the water-sewer rate, the average Arlington homeowners’ tax and fee burden will rise about $281 a year, to a total of $7,567, a 4 percent increase.
“Arlington’s real estate tax rate remains the lowest in the region,” a county press release noted.
County government spending will increase 1.1 percent and Arlington Public Schools spending will increase 4.5 percent compared to the previous fiscal year.
Under the budget, the per-pupil cost of Arlington Public Schools to taxpayers will drop to $18,558 per student from $19,040 per student during FY 2015.
The internal auditor position sought by Vihstadt will require $200,000 of funding. The auditor will be independent, reporting to the County Board as opposed to existing internal auditing programs that report to the County Manager.
“The auditor, and an advisory committee, will report directly to the County Board and will focus on tightening financial oversight and deepening program performance review,” according to the press release.
The Virginia General Assembly passed a bill this year giving the Board the authority to hire an auditor. The only other positions the Board can hire directly are the County Attorney, the County Clerk and the County Manager.
County officials say they were able to balance the budget without a tax increase and find additional funding for schools and other priorities by making budget cuts elsewhere, including Artisphere.
“The Board’s most significant cut was its decision to close Artisphere, a move that will save $2.3 million in net taxpayer support for the County’s critically acclaimed arts and cultural center,” said the press release. “The County has said that the center’s failure to consistently attract a large enough audience and its ongoing need for substantial County funding put too great a burden on strained County finances. The County is redirecting $496,000 of the money saved to fund alternative arts and cultural programming across the County.”
Artisphere is set to close June 30.
The tax rate will likely remain at $0.996 cents of $100 of assessed value, which will result in an average property tax bill increase of $281 per year for Arlington households. The County Board had advertised a rate 1.5 cents higher than it passed, but ultimately decided to make budget cuts instead.
“Every member of this Board is acutely aware of the tax burden on our residents,” County Board Chair Mary Hynes said. “We felt strongly that we did not want to add to that burden.”
The tax rate was one of the key decisions the County Board made during its final budget work session yesterday evening. It will vote on the Calendar Year 2016 tax rate and its FY 2016 budget next Tuesday.
In addition, the County Board vowed to fully fund Arlington Public Schools, allotting $6.2 million above County Manager Barbara Donnellan’s proposed budget. The combination of the flat tax rate and additional money for public schools meant the Board had to slash $2.8 million from their previous budgets.
The biggest of those cuts will come from closing Artisphere, effective June 30. The county still has a lease on the property and there are outside parties that would like to turn it into a tech incubator and conference space, but no formal proposal has yet been made on that front. Closing the center, converting the Metrobus 3A route to ART service and foregoing expansion of urban agricultural offerings were enough to fund a balanced budget.
The Board also acquiesced to other budget requests, including funding a new animal control officer for the Animal Welfare League of Arlington, providing pay increases to the Public Defender’s office and injecting $900,000 into Arlington Economic Development’s budget.
“This budget fully funds Schools, maintains core services and the social safety net, values our employees by providing a modest step increase, and invests more in the critical areas of economic development and public safety,” Hynes said in a press release. “I am confident that next week, we will adopt a budget that continues this County’s long track record of wisely managing taxpayer money while making strategic investments in infrastructure and environmental and economic sustainability.”
In Arlington County, residents who own dogs must pay a for a license.
The license costs $10 per year or $25 for every three years. Despite the abundance of dogs in Arlington, the tax only brought in $59,664 from about 7,000 licensed dogs during a recent fiscal year, according to the Sun Gazette.
That has prompted enquiries from County Board member John Vihstadt.
It also led the president of the Arlington County Taxpayers Association, who fervently advocates for lower taxes, to suggest that the fee might be raised to help pay for the county’s dog parks.
What do you think should be done with the county’s dog license fee?
Today is Tax Day across the nation. Meanwhile, next week, the Arlington County Board will set the Fiscal Year 2016 real estate tax rate.
Last year, in advance of the Board’s FY 2015 budget vote, we asked what you think about the county’s tax rate.
Only 6.5 percent of respondents said the tax rate should be raised, while 27 percent said the tax rate should be held steady and 66.5 percent said it should be lowered.
(The Board ultimately lowered the rate from $1.006 per $100 in value to $0.996.)
This year, the Board advertised a tax rate of $1.011, giving itself the flexibility to raise the rate by up to 1.5 cents. Such a tax hike could be used to help fully fund schools, which are facing a $6.2 million funding gap.
On the other hand, because of higher residential assessments this year, the Board may consider lowering the rate to ease the increasing tax burden on homeowners.
What do you think should be done this year?
The Arlington County Board is considering a recommendation by Arlington County Treasurer Carla de la Pava to reduce the fee for a real estate bill paid up to 30 days late from 10 percent to 5 percent. Tax bills paid after 30 days would continue to incur a 10 percent penalty.
“The Treasurer … has concluded that as currently implemented a 10 percent penalty for late payment of real estate taxes is unnecessarily harsh for delinquent taxpayers who pay of their own accord,” the county’s staff report reads. “Specifically, it treats those taxpayers who simply forgot about a due date the same as those who refuse to meet their tax obligation without collection action by the Treasurer.”
The average real estate bill last year, which are paid in two installments a year, was $2,752.50, according to the treasurer’s office. If a resident paid on June 17, just two days after the June 15 deadline, he or she would have had to pay a $275.25 late fee. If the County Board approves de la Pava’s recommendation, that penalty would be cut in half, to $137.63.
The treasurer’s office said 1,346 Arlington taxpayers paid their real estate taxes between one and 30 days late in 2014. The 10 percent late fee meant they paid a combined $535,721 in fees alone.
“As the average Arlington County real estate tax bill increases, so does the financial hardship suffered by generally honest property owners by the late payment penalty system currently in effect,” the report says. “Furthermore, it is worth noting that the typical homeowner with a mortgage escrow account is extremely unlikely to ever incur a late payment penalty. Instead, the individuals more likely to miss a real estate tax due date are longtime and older residents who no longer have a mortgage on their home and thus are directly and personally responsible for making their real estate tax installment payments.”
If the late penalty had been reduced in FY 2011, the county would have taken in an average of $235,000 less each year, or just under $1 million. The reduced fee has already been included in the FY 2016 budget, according to county staff.
The motion is on the County Board’s consent agenda on Saturday, which means it is likely to approve it without discussion. If the Board passes the motion, Arlington would be the first jurisdiction in Northern Virginia to not charge the maximum late fee on a real estate tax, according to county staff.
Arlington Ranks High for Tax Burden — Arlington County has the second highest overall tax burden in the nation, according to stats compiled by the website NerdWallet. Arlington’s high median income and high real estate costs factored heavily in the calculation, which includes federal, state and local taxes. [NerdWallet, Washington Business Journal]
Trevor Noah Performs in Arlington — Comedian Trevor Noah performed his first stand-up comedy show since being named the next host of The Daily Show last night in Arlington. It was the first of seven sold-out shows Noah is performing this weekend at the Arlington Cinema Drafthouse. In writing about the performance, the New York Times described the Drafthouse as “about a half-hour drive outside Washington, with drinks far cheaper than most places in the District.” [New York Times]
Amsterdam Falafelshop Offers Pot Pairings — Amsterdam Falafelshop, which has a location in Clarendon, is offering a “pot pairing menu” in time for 4/20. Also on April 20, the restaurant will offer sandwiches for $4.20. [Washington City Paper]
Arlington Resident in Voice Contest — Tara Cannon, an Arlington resident, is among the singers hoping to get a guaranteed audition for The Voice, via an online voting contest on NBC 4’s website. [NBC Washington]
Fairlington 5K Road Closures — Arlington County Police are planning on shutting down a number of roads Saturday morning for the second annual Fairlington 5K race. The roads are expected to be closed between 7:00 and 9:30 a.m. [Arlington County]
Cherry Blossom Race Closures — Police are planning on closing the Memorial Bridge and Memorial Circle to traffic Sunday morning for the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run and 5K. The closure is scheduled to be in place from 5:00 to 11:00 a.m.
Artisphere Executive Director Left in Feb. — Jose Ortiz, executive director of Artisphere, quietly left the position in February. Ortiz is now working as the deputy director of the Bronx Museum in New York City. Artisphere programming director Josh Stoltzfus, meanwhile, has been promoted to acting executive director of the cultural center, which is on the county’s budgetary chopping block.
CivFed: No Tax Hike — Members of the Arlington County Civic Federation approved a resolution this week urging the County Board not to approve any increase in Arlington’s real estate tax rate. Fiscal conservatives on the Civic Federation argued that the county has plenty of reserves and surpluses to tap without the need to further tax struggling homeowners. [InsideNova]
Planning Comm. Rejects Wilson School Historic Status — Arlington’s Planning Commission on Monday voted to oppose a historic designation for the Wilson School in Rosslyn, by a vote of 5-4. That follows the School Board’s unanimous vote again a historic designation for the school, which was built in 1910 but was subsequently renovated significantly from its original form. The school system says trying to preserve parts of the school would require additional time and expense as it plans to build a new facility for the H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program on the site. [InsideNova]
Urban Igloo Debuts Clarendon Page — Local apartment matchmaking service Urban Igloo, an ARLnow.com advertiser, has debuted a number of neighborhood information pages, including one for Clarendon. The company says its recently revamped website makes it “one of the first real estate companies to take an online hyperlocal approach to connect renters to specific neighborhoods.” [Urban Igloo]
Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley
One possible explanation for the lack of participation in a program that could save companies thousands of dollars a year: many local tech companies say they haven’t heard about it.
Last year, the Arlington County Board approved a measure “to broaden the Technology Zone incentive program for new technology companies.” The action was trumpeted in a press release by then-County Board chair Jay Fisette.
“These updates reflect the reality of a quickly-changing tech world,” Fisette said at the time. “I said that we would lay the groundwork this year for Arlington to become a hub of the innovation economy. This update to our Tech Zones is a big step in the right direction.”
As of March 19, however, only eight businesses had applied and subsequently qualified for “Technology Zone” status for their 2014 taxes, according to Deputy Commissioner of Revenue Ann Bisson. She could not say which companies had qualified nor how much local tax revenue those companies represent.
“Because of the nature of the tech business currently having so few companies applying, I am not allowed by law to give you that information in this case,” Bisson said. “Virginia law prohibits us from giving out any kind of information where it could be determined what one company has in income.”
In order to qualify, a company has to prove that it meets the following requirements:
- Has been in business in Arlington for no more than 18 months, or has grown in full-time employment by at least 25 percent within the past 12 months.
- Is located in a commercial building in Arlington.
- “Has a primary function in the creation, design, and/or research and development of technology hardware or software.”
It’s unclear how many of the current crop of up-and-coming media- and service-oriented tech companies — Uber, Snapchat, Airbnb, Pinterest, Spotify, etc. — would qualify under of that definition.
“The use of computers, telecommunications services, or a web page or internet site shall not, in itself, be sufficient to qualify as a qualified technology business,” according to county code.
For those that do qualify, the savings are significant: the Business, Professional and Occupational License (BPOL) tax rate is reduced from $0.36 for every $100 of a business’ gross receipts, to between $0.18 and $0.10, depending on the size of the company.
“Arlington Economic Development (AED) estimates that the updated incentives would amount to a five-year benefit from about $39,000 for a 20-employee company to $155,000 for an 80-employee company – an average savings of $2.25 per square foot, if applied to annual rent for companies that qualify,” according to the 2014 press release.
ARLnow.com reached out to a number of the Arlington-based tech firms we have profiled for our Startup Monday feature. Of those that responded, most said they would likely qualify for the incentive, but none had heard of it before we reached out.
“Without you pointing it out, I’m not sure we would have figured it out,” said the founder of a Clarendon-based startup, who declined to be identified. “We use an out-of-state accountant and this is a pretty hyper-local set of incentives. We certainly would sign up, now that we know it exists.”
Raymond Rahbar, founder and CEO of UberOffices, which houses at least a dozen local tech startups at its Rosslyn coworking space, said no one has reached out to him or his company about informing its members of the incentive.
Rami Essaid, the founder and CEO of Distil Networks in Ballston, also said he had not been contacted. However, he said incentive program is small potatoes for startups that hope to scale into billion-dollar businesses.
“When you are in hyper growth, you care more about big picture things like being able to continue to scale and not optimizing little things like taxes,” Essaid told ARLnow.com. “That said, Arlington I feel like has done many of the right things to foster an environment for scale. That means having the right talent pool, good community events, etc. The extra tax perks are nice bonuses but they don’t influence our reason for being in Arlington.”
Ironically, despite being an incentive for tech companies, little information about the program can be found on Arlington County’s own website.
There’s a blurb buried deep on AED’s website, but no information about how to apply for it. “Contact Arlington Economic Development for specific details,” the page said.
We couldn’t find anything on Arlington’s Taxes & Payments site. A PDF document on the site, listing business tax rates, does not list the Technology Zone rate. Neither did the paper tax bill mailed by the Commissioner of Revenue’s office. When we asked about it last month, we were referred to the Tech Zone’s section of county code itself.