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February 28, 2005

Mayor William D. Euille
Vice Mayor Redella S. "Del" Pepper
Councilwoman Joyce Woodson
Councilman Ludwig P. Gaines
Councilman K. Rob Krupicka
Councilman Andrew H. Macdonald
Councilman Paul C. Smedberg
301 King Street
Alexandria, VA 22314

 

Dear Mayor Euille, Vice Mayor Pepper, and Council Members:

On behalf of the Seminary Hills Association, I am writing to express the widely shared concerns of our membership over the dramatic increases in the 2005 real estate assessments, the third such dramatic increase in a row. This years increase, averaging 21.2% but exceeding 40% in some instances, expose homeowners to the potential of a thoroughly unanticipated, and in our opinion, totally unjustifiable, hike in property taxes.

We are well aware that the assessment values are just one part of the tax equation and must be assessed at 100% of value. Ultimately, the tax due will be determined by the rate set by the City Council. In prior years the Council has reduced the tax rate to mitigate the consequences of rising property values, and already Mayor Euille has suggested that an adjustment will be made this year. Our major concern is that such a reduction will be minimal and not provide anywhere near the relief needed to offset the dramatic rise in assessments. Our members are making it clear to us that these minimum, annual tax adjustments are clearly insufficient and that more dramatic reforms may be needed.

Despite those prior adjustments in the tax rates, the actual taxes paid by Alexandria homeowners for the past several years have been increasing at a rate far greater than inflation. That steady increase, coupled now with the unprecedented 2005 assessment increases, has led many homeowners to fear yet another sizable increase in their tax bill. There is a rapidly growing feeling that the city's current and automatic method of raising revenues through property taxes is becoming increasingly excessive and unfair.

Certainly for those citizens who live on fixed incomes, and for all those whose incomes are not increasing at a rate greater than inflation such as military and government employees, it is unfair to impose on them a property tax increase that has in some years exceeded 13%. And for all property owners in Alexandria it is unfair and increasingly oppressive to rely on a tax system that provides virtually no predictability from one year to the next. As a consequence, we find ourselves each year at the mercy of the City Council--this is not how a proper tax system should work.

As a direct consequence of the 2005 assessments, there is a growing sense of energy and direction forming amongst the citizenry to seek a fundamental and long-term solution that would provide both fairness and predictability to the city's taxation practices. Like minded citizens and their advocacy groups are meeting to consider options including, if necessary, changes to the city charter. Such changes could include spending limits, a cap on property tax increases, and even scrapping the property tax altogether in favor of an income tax. The decisions the council makes this year in setting the property tax rate will influence how aggressively those efforts are pursued. We look forward to hearing the new City Manager’s thoughts and intention on this critical issue. We also wish to engage the city leadership prior to the setting of the tax rate in May.

Sincerely,

Joseph T. Gerard

President, Seminary Hills Assoc.

Cc: City Manager Jim Hartmann

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