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More questions on taxes

It might help us as we try to make sense of the whole Tax Increase in Waynesboro That Wasn’t, At Least for Frank Lucente, to look at how it could be that aggregate assessed property values could be up 5 percent over the past two years even as people like Lucente are seeing their property values plummet.

I contacted City Assessor John Kiger to get numbers on assessed values in the aggregate, and wasn’t surprised to see substantial growth in commercial values very much in the lead.

In fact, the commercial sector, which accounts for just 23.3 percent of the value of all property in Waynesboro, accounted for 56 percent of the increase in aggregate property values between 2007 and 2009, with the $64 million increase reflecting an overall 17 percent spike in values of commercial properties in the two-year period.

This should be no surprise, given the growth in the West End that has recently been complemented by the addition of the Waynesboro Town Center that has raised values across the board, for example, with the Wal-Mart property on Lucy Lane growing in value from $15.8 million in 2007 to $17.6 million in 2009, an increase of 11 percent in the period.

How does that impact our ongoing tax-rate discussion, then? Well, for political purposes the advocates led by Lucente for a three-cent property-tax decrease have made the case that residential taxpayers are being saddled with a 5.3 percent tax increase because the overall assessment increase is 5.3 percent.

But as Lucente’s own personal story – the assessed value of his home on Pickett Road dropped $10,500 from 2007 to 2009, according to the Virginia Mass Appraisal Network website – demonstrates, the reality is a bit more complicated than the political story we’ve been sold.

For starters, you can half that amount based on the impact on that overall figure of the growth in commercial values. Which brings us to residential, where Lucente’s story of a drop in his assessed value is not at all atypical. I looked at the assessed values of the homes of all five members of City Council, and three, including Lucente, City Councilwoman Lorie Smith and City Councilman Bruce Allen, saw their assessed values drop, with one, City Councilwoman Nancy Dowdy, having her home value increase a modest 2 percent, and Mayor Tim Williams having his increase 11 percent.

Spreading out – City Manager Mike Hamp’s home value was down 5 percent; Assistant City Manager Jim Shaw’s value was down 4 percent; former City Manager Doug Walker was up 2 percent, but that was after a significant home-improvement project in the 2007-2009 time frame.

Police Chief Doug Davis and Fire Chief Charlie Scott both had increases; Budget Manager Pat Nicosia had a decrease.

So the picture on the residential side is mixed, commercial is booming, industry is pretty stagnant, at 2.6 percent growth in assessed values from 2007 to 2009.

And then there’s this bottom line – the $39.4 million budget that the city is working on for 2009-2010 is about $1 million smaller than the one that was adopted last spring.

And here I was trying to make sense of things, and all I’ve done is raise more questions as to what all the fuss the past few weeks has been about.


– Story by Chris Graham