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Loudoun homeowners riding the assessment wave up

In 1999, Leesburg resident Vicky Payne bought a townhouse for $100,000 in cash.

Boy, what a property-value ride she has been on since.

At the time of her purchase, Payne's home was assessed at $82,000 and the land at $32,000. What the long-time Loudoun County resident has seen in her property value since then has been nothing short of remarkable in her eyes.

In 2007, Payne's property was assessed at $100,000 and her structure at $242,000. Two years later, the structure lost more than half that value and the land wasn't far behind - the home came in at $114,000 in 2009 and the land at $64,000.

Now, Payne's pain is starting to subside, and her home's value is back on the upswing. Her 2014 assessment for the home is listed at roughly $182,000, nearly $20,000 more than last year. The land stayed the same at $70,000.

Did she make any structural improvements to her house?

“Oh, heck no,” Payne said.

As the Northern Virginia economy continues to grow, Loudoun County residents are once again realizing the double-edged sword of home-ownership: increased property values versus the accompanying tax hike. The issue is particularly charged in the dynamic and affluent county of Loudoun. Parents expect the best in public education, yet the elected, all-Republican Board of Supervisors have pledged to not raise taxes on their constituents.

Last year's real property tax rate was set by supervisors at $1.205 per $100 in assessed value. Currently, to keep the average county homeowner's tax bill steady - factoring in the increased assessments - supervisors will have to set the tax rate at $1.155, a number that falls several million short of the budget adopted for next year by the school board.

From 2013 to 2014, the change in the county's equalized property value is slightly more than 4 percent, bringing in more than $2.3 billion in additional revenue. In terms of taxable real property, which includes new construction and growth, the increase is more than 8.3 percent, pumping nearly 4.8 billion into the county's coffers.

By election district, Sterling residents saw the steepest increase in assessments over the past year, with a more than 8 percent increase in the equalized change. Second was Leesburg with a 6.2 percent change. Algonkian rounded out the top three at just less than 6 percent. The remaining districts, all of which increased, include: Ashburn, 4.7 percent; Broad Run, 3.6 percent; Catoctin, 3.4 percent; Dulles 2.2 percent; and Blue Ridge 1.35 percent.

Overall, the taxable portion of the county’s real estate portfolio comes in at more than $62 billion, nearly $5 billion more than last year.

County Commissioner of the Revenue Bob Wertz (R) said there was nothing monumental that stood out to him in the 2014 assessments, which are based on information compiled throughout 2013.

“There were no big surprises,” he noted.

The primary factor that goes into determining assessments, Wertz explained, is the surrounding housing market. Additionally, there are improvements to homes, which are typically examined through the permitting process.

More than 20 county officials are tasked with assessing homes in Loudoun, according to the revenue commissioner. County homeowners can find the name of the person who assessed their home directly on their notice if they'd like to speak with them – something Wertz believes in unique to Loudoun.

Homeowners can appeal their assessments to the county's Board of Equalization until June 2. In Payne's opinion, however, it may be a waste of time.

Payne challenged her assessment in 2007, providing valuation information of surrounding homes in the area.

"I once presented documentation of 10 other homes similar to mine in my neighborhood, and mine was the only one that had a significant increase in the assessment and the committee denied my appeal," Payne said. "I don't even bother looking anymore, I just write the check. I played their game once, but now, no."

Payne understands fluctuating real estate values are part of being a homeowner in Loudoun. Still, there's no place she'd rather be.

"We're lucky in Loudoun,” she said. “We pay the taxes to live here, and we're OK with that. We want to live here."

Payne also praised the county for its elderly tax relief program, something she says has allowed her parents to afford staying in western Loudoun. The program offers reduced property taxes for people 65 years and older or people with disabilities.

"A couple years ago my husband asked if they can offer that to us," Payne said. "I told him we're not that old yet."

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When the wave crashes, as it always does, do you think our taxes will go down? What do real property assessments have to do with setting a budget since the budget never seems to shrink when home values go down. This is just more propaganda encouraging wasteful spending.

I don’t understand what this Payne lady is complaining about. With her assesment for 2014 at $252,000 and assuming tax rate same as last year her bill is $3,037. Assessed value is usually less than Fair Market Value so her house maybe is worth $280,000 if she tried to sell today. I don’t know where you can find a house that cheap in LC?

The tax rate is too high, but most of us have it a lot worse.  I too live in a townhouse, but tax is much higher.

The rate hopefully will go lower, but the LCPS take at least 80% of the budget and it should be slashed to 50% by various cuts I have mentioned in previous posts. Use the cost savings to lower taxes and road improvements.

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