Local Commentary

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

Assessments, the strike team, and the continuing gloomy financial outlook were on tap as the Board of Supervisors met all day Saturday for a budget workshop at the Fairfax County Government Center. 

Department of Tax Administration (DTA) Director Kevin Greenlief was on the hot seat as Board members grilled him about the real estate assessment process that resulted in topsy-turvy land values to structure values throughout Fairfax County.

Assessments are governed by Virginia’s Constitution (Article X, Sec. 2) that mandates that “all assessments of real estate…shall be at their fair market value.”  This requirement, Mr. Greenlief pointed out, speaks to the total property value. Then, DTA is required by state statute to split the total between land and building. Appraisal theory says the use of vacant land sales is the preferred method for allocating value to land for residentially improved properties, but he also admitted that there are other valid appraisal options that can be used. In response to questions from Board members, Mr. Greenlief said that DTA staff has begun working on reallocations for most single-family improved residential properties, and letters providing the reallocated assessments and explanation will be mailed during the next few weeks. He reminded Board members that the bottom line assessments are unlikely to change.

The administrative appeal process deadline for assessments has been extended to April 18. Appeals to the Board of Equalization must be filed by June 2. Additional information is available by calling 703/222-8234 (the number in last week’s column was incorrect) or log on to the Fairfax County Web site: www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dta.

Strike team funding also was a focus of the budget workshop. The strike team, composed of Code Enforcement, Zoning, Fire Marshall, Health Department, and other county agency personnel, was created by the Board of Supervisors last spring to address the increasing numbers of multiple occupancy complaints received by Board members. Two strike teams were created, and a third one is needed to address the workload of cases reported. The strike team has investigated 218 properties across the county; 18 were found to have no violations; 20 came into compliance. Forty-one cases have been referred for civil prosecution by the courts; another 35 are in the criminal court process. The balance are still under investigation and more complaints are added every day. At Saturday’s meeting, Chairman Gerry Connolly made a motion, called a “consideration item,” to allocate $1 million for an additional strike team. His motion, supported by several Board members including me, will be taken up during budget deliberations in April.

A gloomy financial forecast continues to plague local governments across the nation. Sales tax receipts are down, home foreclosures are up, and revenue growth rates are flat. Fairfax County is fortunate that job creation, good schools, and prudent financial management combine to put the county on a more stable footing than other localities. In fact, the president of Volkswagen America, which is moving its headquarters and 400 employees to Fairfax, was quoted Tuesday that the relocation was because of a very low crime rate and a school system that is “just perfect.” Keeping it that way is our challenge!