Local Commentary

A Penny for Your Thoughts: The News of Greater Falls Church

The phones started ringing and e-mail traffic picked up Tuesday afternoon, just about the time reassessment notices first appeared in homeowner’s mailboxes. As predicted, most homeowner assessments decreased overall, but it was how they declined that shocked taxpayers and the Board of Supervisors alike. Land values went way up, and house values went way down. For one Mason District homeowner, whose overall assessment decreased, the land value was $325,000, an increase of $145,000; the house was valued at $62,960, a decrease of more than $200,000! Another Mason District homeowner in Falls Church saw her land value more than double, while the house value dropped to $54,210.

What happened? According to Fairfax County’s Department of Tax Administra-tion (DTA), the values are not reversed. This year, DTA staff explained, a new method-ology was used that allocated a greater share of the total assessments to the land, and a smaller share to the house itself. When setting the 2008 assessments by neighborhood, appraisers reviewed improved property sales to determine the total assessed value, and then allocated the land value based on land sales. The balance of the value was then attributed to the house. Real estate taxes are paid based on the total assessment. Approximately 71 percent of residential properties had assessment decreases this year, DTA staff said.

Why are land and house values listed separately on assessment notices?  Most states do not require the value to be split; tax notices simply focus on the bottom line. In Virginia, however, state law requires that land and house values be split, even though Fairfax County does not tax land and structures at different rates.  The Board of Supervisors sets the real estate tax rate, but does not have authority to set or adjust assessments.

What’s next? In response to my concerns and those also expressed by my Board colleagues, DTA will undertake a review of the assessment splits for residential properties in Fairfax County. According to DTA staff, the bottom line assessment is not likely to change, but homeowners may receive new notices reflecting a reallocation of house values to land values. Homeowners may call 703/222-8284 to talk to a DTA staff appraiser. Administrative appeals of assessments must be filed with DTA by April 18. Appeals to the Board of Equalization must be filed by June 2. Additional information is available on the county’s Web site: www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dta.

J.E.B. Stuart High School’s annual Taste of the Town will be held this Sunday, March 9, from 5 to 7:30 p.m. at the school, 3301 Peace Valley Lane in Falls Church. Participating restaurants include the German Gourmet, Duangrat’s, Raaga, Bentley’s Catering, Moe’s Southwest Grill, Chipotle, Olive Garden, and freshly roasted coffee from Annandale’s own Beanetics. Also included in the festivities are silent and live auctions, Spanish club dancers, madrigal singers, and the J.E.B. Stuart Jazz Band and Orchestra. Tickets are $15 in advance (call Susan Solomon in the Stuart guidance office at 703/824-3922), $18 at the door, and $8 for students. See you Sunday at Stuart!

 

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