Arlington County’s manager proposes first tax increase in 2 years

WASHINGTON — Homeowners in Virginia’s Arlington County could be paying a bit more in property taxes in the upcoming budget year if manager Mark Schwartz‘s latest proposal is approved.

The county manager is calling for a 1.5 cent real estate tax rate increase. One penny of the increase is earmarked for the county’s public schools. The other half penny would go to hiring new school resource officers and nurses at new schools, and for increasing the pay for county employees. Public comment on the budget is scheduled to start April 2.

This would be the first county tax increase in two years, after the board voted last year to keep the rate the same. If approved by the board, homeowners would pay $1.008 for every $100 of a home’s assessed value.

It is part of a $1.34 billion budget proposal, with $810.1 million going to the county’s operating costs and $525.6 million for schools.

“If you ask me after this, whether I think that that’s enough, I’d say that it might be, you may have some pressures related to Metro and schools to take into consideration,” Schwartz said.

The county manager said the penny-plus increase in the tax rate could have potentially been higher. Last fall, forecasts only showed a 2 percent increase in real estate assessments. Instead, the county saw a 3.5 percent increase, powered by a 2.9 percent spike in residential real estate assessments and a 4.1 percent increase in commercial assessments.

“Now that was a surprise, it was a surprise to me and a surprise to many of us because the commercial assessments did better than residential assessments,” Schwartz said.

He also credited lower than expected costs regarding health care and other county employee costs for preventing a higher uptick in the tax rate.

The budget, he believes, would also raise an extra $11.7 million for the county.

In all, Schwartz said the average homeowner would pay $6,724, about 4 percent more than last year. When you add in all the changes to county taxes and fees, the average homeowner will shell out $8,990.

Schwartz said the budget does include $5.2 million in spending cuts that would impact 29 jobs, including 10 vacant positions. Most of those cuts include jobs at the county’s Department of Human Services. It does, however, call for four additional jobs to help with Amazon-fueled development in the county.

The budget includes a 3 percent increase in funding for Metro, which Schwartz said doesn’t include additional funding being sought by Metro’s General Manager Paul Wiedefeld.

The tax rate is subject to change, as the county board goes through the budget, and debates what is inside. Also, Arlington County’s Schools superintendent will release the system’s proposed budget next week.

Schwartz said some future pressure remains for the budget. That pressure would come from an influx of students enrolling in county schools, as well as changes in the economy.

Public hearings on the budget will begin on April 2, with the first meeting at 2100 Clarendon Blvd. at 7 p.m.

Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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