Property Tax Windfall

Property Tax Spells Windfall For N.Va.

The booming real estate market and skyrocketing home assessments in the Washington area have created a fountain of tax revenue for local governments in Northern Virginia, many of which are spending the money as fast as it pours in.

In budget proposals unveiled in the past few weeks, local leaders are continuing to push big increases in spending. Loudoun County’s budget has nearly doubled in four years. In Fairfax County, real estate taxes for the average homeowner could go up by 11 percent. Under a Prince William County proposal, taxes would rise an average of 9.4 percent. And these increases follow several years of steep rises in taxes.

With no local income tax available as a source of revenue and with a state government straining to balance its books, suburban counties have welcomed cash from real estate. It has paid for badly needed new schools and roads and has helped communities accommodate services for newcomers. But rapidly rising tax bills are slamming many families, leading to some backlash against local leaders and raising questions about what will happen if real estate fizzles.

Indeed. The assessed value of my townhouse in Loudoun County is $35,000 more than it was last year–and still $50,000 under the market value. The community I’m in didn’t exist five years ago; most of this area was farmland. The people who predate the tech boom (AOL and MCI are five miles down the road) are less than pleased, as their property tax likely exceeds their mortgage payment now.

Having moved here from Alabama, which not only has relatively low home prices–the assessed value of the tiny plot of land my townhouse sits on is more than 2/3 of that for which I sold my house there–but easily the lowest property tax rates in the country, I can certainly see the difference.

My chief complaint is not so much that they manage to spend the money faster than they can take it in, even with this windfall but that they appear to be spending it unwisely. The roads here are absolutely appalling. I’ve never seen so many potholes in my life, which is especially problematic since I seem to be the only one around here with a car that’s under $30,000.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dave says:

    I’m curious if they will refund this “windfall”, or perhaps offer to reduce the mill rates for the next fiscal year. Connecticut has been reaping the same rewards from rising property values. I guarantee there is no imminent rate reduction being planned. If anything, they will be squandering the surplus.

  2. McGehee says:

    Two words: Proposition 13.

  3. Hal says:

    Yea, Prop 13 has done wonders for us out here in CA.

    Me thinks you need a brain transplant, McGehee. The one you have seems to be missing a few essential pieces.

  4. Hal says:

    BTW James, you might want to really investigate the history of prop 13. We are now in a situation in CA where the median price of an existing, single-family detached home in California during January 2004 was $405,720. Sound like fun? And let’s not forget that the state pretty much absconds with all the miniscule property taxes so our local municipalities and counties are litterally starving for funds. We rank 37 in per pupil spending in education. Our state is in debt up to its ears because of this shift in the tax base cause by prop 13.

    Oh, yes. Do start a Prop 13 movement in your state. The results have been stellar here.

  5. James Joyner says:


    I agree that Prop 13 has been a mess. I’m not sure what the alternative solution is to our situation. It’s certainly unfair to shift the burden to new homeowners–as Prop 13 does in California. But perhaps there should be a cap on the annual rate of increase for a given, occupied unit. I could imagine a scenario where people with modest incomes or living on pensions would literally be forced out of their homes by the escalating taxes.

    The median price of a single-family detached home in this area has to be $700,000 or more. Even out where I am, they start at $500,00. In D.C. proper and the surrounding communities, they’re much higher still.

  6. McGehee says:

    And let’s not forget that the state pretty much absconds with all the miniscule property taxes so our local municipalities and counties are litterally starving for funds.

    So fix it. Throw out the idiot politicians. Reform Prop. 13 so the state can’t do that. But I guess it’s easier to just blame a ballot proposition for not being perfect, than to do something about the problem.

    Hal, when I left, the average IQ in The Fugue State fell by 50%.

  7. Lee says:

    Now if we can get Hal to leave the IQ will go up 50%. Where’s a safe place to put him?

  8. CGHill says:

    As of 1997, Oklahoma limits the increase in assessed property values for tax purposes to five percent a year, unless there is a change in ownership or a substantial level of improvement. (The tax rate itself is not subject to the limitation, but the tax rate must be approved by popular vote annually, even if no change is requested.) Our county assessor reports that 92.7 percent of all taxable real property in the county was subject to the limitation in 2003.

    Further, if a homeowner is 65 or older, and has a household income under $25,000, the assessed value may be frozen indefinitely. (There are a couple of filing requirements, but nothing that should be considered unusual.)

    When this measure (a 1996 referendum) passed, there was some thought that “Yeah, every year the assessment will go up exactly 5 percent.” It hasn’t. The house in which I live was sold in 2001, and again in 2003 (to me), and taxes have actually declined slightly since then, though the selling price I paid was markedly higher than the price paid by the previous owner two years before.

  9. Jalal Abu Jarhead says:

    James, I think we’ve been suffering a “perfect storm” here in Loudoun County. Between struggling with the astounding growth we’ve experienced recently (fastest growing county in Virginia, and we were 2nd in the nation in the recent past; I don’t recall the latest ranking) and our former Board of Supervisors’ efforts to transfer wealth from the eastern end of the county to their western supporters, compounded by a School Board in love with our spendthrift Superintendent, who loves to build Taj Mahals for our school children, it’s no wonder the budget’s a mess. For what it’s worth, I believe we took McGehee’s advice and threw out the idiot politicians in November.

    It’s tough to find competent campaigners who will limit governmental spending once they’re elected. I believe we were lucky to find budget cutters here in Loudoun County to fill a majority of seats on the Board. Most often, though, that’s hard to make happen.

    What’s vital is to elect leaders who recognize that “holding the line on taxes” doesn’t mean “don’t raise the tax rate.” When assessments skyrocket, they have to cut the rates, not just hold them steady.

    Politicians seem to love to spend our money (duh!).

  10. Paul says:

    Hal humorously said: Our state is in debt up to its ears because of this shift in the tax base cause by prop 13.

    Yeah, and the fact Gray Davis DOUBLED SPENDING had absolutely nothing to do with the problem.

    McGehee, if ya get that brain transplant, don’t take Hal’s. I’m surprised it even keeps him breathing.

  11. Hal says:

    Ah, the sweet ignorance of Paul showing up again.

    Hey Paul, how about those Republican polling numbers? Ain’t the DOW over 10,000? What was your lame ass prediction again?