“Frozen” Property Taxes

by James C. Sherlock

I admit my fascination with how newspapers present various issues. It is an important window into the information their readers are getting.

City manager and county executive proclamations that property tax rates are “frozen” are meant to sound like fiscal constraint. Consider this headline from The Washington Post:

“Fairfax County executive proposes budget with tax-rate freeze, less pandemic austerity”

First paragraph:

“Fairfax County Executive Bryan Hill proposed a budget Tuesday that would freeze the residential property tax rate while spending more on county services — part of a push to end fiscal austerity in Northern Virginia amid signs of economic stability”

End “fiscal austerity” in Fairfax County. Seriously?

“Hill was able to present a $4.85 billion spending plan that focuses on some key areas of growth for Virginia’s most populous jurisdiction while keeping the residential property tax rate at $1.14 per $100 of assessed value.”

Where do we get such men? Everybody wins, right?

“The plan echoes budgets recently proposed in Arlington County and the city of Alexandria, where officials also focused on reversing spending cuts and freezing tax rates.”

Spending cuts? None specified. Turns out that spending cuts were deferred “investments in our employees, our programs and our community.”

You have to get to paragraph ten to discover that:

“a rapid increase in home values in the county — up by 8.1 percent since last year — means that, even with the frozen tax rate, homeowners will have to pay an average of $666 more in annual residential property taxes.”

“A 6.6 percent increase in the values of apartment buildings in Fairfax since last year — coupled with ongoing inflation — probably means higher rents for those residents, too.”

Here is a headline from Virginia Beach.

“Virginia Beach council to decide what to do about $60M vehicle tax windfall.”

Down here, at least we call it a “windfall.” Not so The Washington Post. There are no windfalls in Northern Virginia, just “less austerity.”

Oh, so everyone doesn’t win with “frozen” tax rates in a high inflation economy.  Except for the recipients of those “ deferred investments”.

Who knew?