Fudging the Numbers

Arlington County Board is trumpeting the fact that its FY12 budget contains NO real estate tax increase. So what’s there to complain about? Well for one thing, the current tax rate is high. In fact at $4,821, the average Arlington household’s real estate tax burden is higher than any other Northern Virginia jurisdiction, including Fairfax County, City of Fairfax, City of Alexandria, Prince William County and Loudoun County. This may come as news to anyone who read the Revenue Summary and Detail report on the county’s FY12 budget website. A chart on page 43 shows Arlington with a lower tax and fee burden than all nearby jurisdictions except the City of Fairfax.

These numbers are wrong. The Arlington County Civic Federation (ACCF) caught the discrepancy in its Report on the County Manager’s Proposed FY12 Budget. It says:

Consistent with past practice, the FY12 budget book contains a chart comparing the average Arlington household’s tax and fee burden with other jurisdictions in Northern Virginia for CY2010. The Manager’s presentation, on its face, makes Arlington look comparatively attractive, with a total burden lower (in some comparisons, dramatically lower) than 5 of the 6 benchmarked jurisdictions.

We find the Manager’s presentation statistically misleading, in that its methodology calculates the real estate taxes for the benchmarked jurisdictions using the average Arlington residential value for all jurisdictions in the comparison – rather than using the unique average residential value of each jurisdiction.

In other words the Arlington County Manager fudged the numbers. These numbers are important when one considers that County Board raised real estate taxes by a hefty $270 per household just last year. As a remedy ACCF recommends that the county enact a one time real estate tax decrease of $13.95 million. Any chance County Board will heed that advice? Doubtful.

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