Rising taxes are making it increasingly hard for retirees Anna and Peter McCrary to afford the home in Manassas they’ve maintained for 26 years.
“They’re going to run us out of town,” Peter McCrary said.
The City Council made a preliminary attempt at correcting this problem last week at a forecast meeting for the fiscal 2005 budget.
“There are tons of retired people on fixed incomes, and those people really hurt when you increase their taxes. They almost have to leave town,” said Mayor Marvin L. Gillum. “That issue is so important to our community.”
Anna McCrary said she felt disappointed with council members who said at least taxes were lower than in Fairfax County. “But that seems like an excuse children would use,” she said.
Council member Judith A. Hays agrees with Anna McCrary that this is an unfair situation.
“You should be able to retire and live in Manassas,” Hays said.
And while the council suggested lowering the tax rate from $1.20 to $1.18 per $100 of assessed value, some like retiree Hans Schmidt blame the high bills on rising assessments.
“Last year they raised my assessment about $40,500. The year before they raised it too. It’s ridiculous, these kinds of assessments,” Schmidt said.
If a house is assessed at $250,000 a decrease from $1.20 to $1.18 would mean paying $2,950 as opposed to $3,000 per year. A person with a $500,000 home would save $100.
Virginia law mandates an automatic adjustment of taxes to account for these rising assessments, said Steve Allen, chairman of the Manassas Taxpayers Association.
“There have been cases of cities using different formulas and deliberately raising the assessments,” Allen said. “I’m not saying that’s what they’re doing, but that’s why there’s that rule.”
Peter McCrary said City Council members sometimes brag about decreasing or maintaining a tax rate, while high assessments cause overall tax bills to rise.
“They say our tax rate doesn’t change, but they must think we were born yesterday,” he said.
Increased assessments may bode well for some, but not those intending to stay in their homes, Peter McCrary said.
“I don’t care what the assessed value is on my house, because I am never going to sell it,” he said. “It’s my home, it’s not a way for the city to gouge me out of money.”
The 50 percent tax increase in the past four years also worries Vice Mayor Harry “Hal” J. Parrish II.
“I think our citizens are a little tired of having it come from that area, and in my view we should take a break,” Parrish said.
The 2005 budget forecast showed a deficit and a 5 percent growth in expenditures in order to pay for increases in city salaries and medical benefit costs. Parrish said he would hate to see such a large increase when the inflation rate is only 2 to 3 percent.
But council member J. Steven Randolph said cutting taxes would be compromising the services Manassas residents have come to expect.
“It’s very easy to come up here and say ‘cut taxes,’ but what are you going to cut?” he said. “It’s going to be a painful experience.”
Just like she does for her own budget, Anna McCrary said the city should not spend what it doesn’t have.
“If I can’t live within my budget, I have to cut something,” she said. “We can’t have everything we want.”
Council member Ulysses X. White said residents elected him to make tough decisions, and he was ready to do so.
“Let’s talk about some of the sacred cows we don’t want to touch,” he said.
Spending cuts may be the answer according to White.
“We talk about tax restructuring and additional revenue,” White said, “but maybe we need to look at the other side.”