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Fredericksburg residents miffed at high real estate assessment values

by | May 15, 2024 | ALLFFP, Fredericksburg, Government

Joe Wilson had his hands full as he strode to the podium during Tuesday’s Fredericksburg City Council meeting.  

In Wilson’s possession were approximately 20 real estate assessments mailed to residents in recent weeks, each containing what he considered dramatic increases in property value. 

“For example, 405 Amelia Street, which is my office, 41%,” Wilson said. “915 Caroline Street, which is the Card Cellar — a shop owner that sells sports memorabilia — increased 54%. … 

“It appears to me the assessors used the S.W.A.G system — that’s Scientific, Wild Ass Guessing.” 

Whatever the methodology, similar sentiments abounded during the public comment session for the city’s advertised real estate tax rate of 78 cents per $100 of assessed value. That rate includes an “equalized rate” of 71 cents plus a six-cent increase and a new one-cent fire tax.

The equalized rate is set during reassessment — which occurs once every four years — to ensure that the levy under new values is not more than 101% of the previous levy, in accordance with state law. Fredericksburg’s real estate tax rate for FY 2024 was 89 cents per $100.  

Each resident who spoke during Tuesday’s meeting took particular issue with their assessment values.  

“It appears to me that one of two things are terribly wrong,” Wilson said. “Either the assessments four years ago were too low, or the assessments today are too high.” 

Thomas Shank, who lives in the Preserve of Smith Run neighborhood, estimates he’ll pay an additional $131 per month if the advertised tax rate of 78 cents is passed.  

“I’m 66, trying to retire, and this ain’t making it any easier,” Shank said.  

Councilor Jon Gerlach (Ward 2) elicited a tepid smattering of applause in the council chambers after he outlined his concerns about the city’s reliance on real estate taxes as a primary revenue source. 

“My concern is that it could accelerate the process of gentrification,” Gerlach said of increased taxes. “Gentrification is where families who’ve lived here for several generations can no longer afford to… 

“I think this is a good time for us to remember that we need to find other sources of revenue. In my mind, that’s the only way we’re going to moderate increase in real estate taxes in coming years.” 

Gerlach also asked his colleagues to reexamine the city’s tax exemption program for seniors, which he said pales in comparison to those of neighboring jurisdictions. Fredericksburg residents are not eligible for the program if their net assets exceed $300,000, Gerlach said. 

“You’ll see that there is a lot of room for improvement in the way we draw the lines for those exemptions,” he said. “I don’t think we should penalize our seniors who have worked hard and saved. I think that’s wrong, and I would like to take another look at what we can do to expand that program.” 

During a work session earlier in the evening, councilors asked for more time to mull over an adjustment to the city’s general fund that will result in an additional $427,000 in revenue; the council can set a rate equal to or lower than the advertised 78 (77 cents plus 1 cent fire tax).  

Councilor Jason Graham (Ward 1) said that the discussions had narrowed realistic options to 76 cents or 77 cents. The tax rate will face a vote at the next city council meeting on May 28. 

Fire Station special use permit approved

In a 6-0 vote, the city council approved both a comprehensive plan amendment and a change to the Unified Development Ordinance related to the construction of a fire station at the intersection of Fall Hill Avenue and Wicklow Drive. Vice Mayor Chuck Frye Jr. was absent from the meeting. 

The special use permit would allow fire stations to be built in R2 residential zones in the city. The planning commission recommended approving both items, 7-0, during its April 10 meeting.  

During a presentation, senior development administrator Marne Sherman said that the new station, which will be the third in Fredericksburg, will increase the portion of the city with sub-four-minute EMS response times from 38% to 52%. 

Gerlach asked whether the Bragg Hill Community Garden — adjacent to the proposed site — would be disrupted at any point during construction.  

“It’s our goal to preserve the garden in its current state through construction,” City Manager Tim Baroody replied. “We’re very proud it opened four or five years ago with great fanfare, it’s well-utilized, and we’d like to see it continue in its current state for years to come.” 

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