Assessment blues

Tax cut. Those two simple words get politicians elected and reelected.

Those two words will undoubtedly be tossed around this campaign season as races heat up for eight seats on the Prince William Board of County Supervisors.

County supervisors have consistently shaved pennies off the local real estate tax rate the past four years. This has gone on, however, while homeowners continue to shell out more cash to pay their tax bills. That’s because the rate of increase in home assessments is outdistancing the decreasing rate of taxation.

Housing is at a premium in Prince William and this predicament has allowed the county to weather the recent economic slump with average real estate assessments increasing by 6, 10 and 18 percent the past three years respectively. Part of the increased revenue taken in by the county has gone back to homeowners in rate reductions while another portion of the taxes go toward growth in county spending. This will form the arguments this spring when a new budget is drafted.

Zero growth in county spending would keep the real estate tax rate somewhere between $1.07 and $1.08 per $100 of assessed value.

Growth in Prince William’s $1 billion budget is attributed to many sources. Some point at the new homes being built which costs the county more in schools, roads and services. Other say an antiquated state tax code puts growing counties like Prince William and Loudoun at a disadvantage. When the state doesn’t pitch in with necessary funding, county residents are forced to make up the difference. Evidence of that can be seen in the construction of the Prince William Parkway and other major road projects paid for with local taxes.

Spring time is a good time for the county to review its spending to see where money can be saved, especially considering the hit homeowners absorb with rising assessments. The crux of the argument will, and should, be how much the county should lower the tax rate.

County supervisors have done a respectable job of lowering the real estate tax rate to $1.23 with another 4 cent reduction expected this year. The supervisors have also done a fine job when compared to our neighbors in Fairfax Virginia’s poor little rich county where home assessments continue to increase around 20 percent each year along with escalating fees and little tax relief.

Yes, it’s good that the Prince William County’s real estate tax rate has been lowered from $1.36 four years ago. Lowering the rate was common sense considering the left over cash the county ends up with every summer.

And it will be good if the tax rate is lowered to $1.19 per $100 of assessed value. Just don’t call it a tax cut.

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