Ramblings of Silver Blue


23 May

Something to Ponder

I’ve said lots about this mess of assessments and bunk with the city’s tax base. An interesting article from the local Daily Press is included in the extended section. Here’s a pertinent point:

Her problem is one shared by many people living on a fixed income and trying to cope with property tax increases. Vittorini says he is paying his 50 percent jump in three years from a retirement income that has increased less than 10 percent over that time.

Wintermyer questions the term “fixed income” altogether.

“If you’re retired, you’re on a fixed income,” he says. “But if you’re working, you can’t go to your boss and say you need a raise because your taxes have gone up.”

When most people speak of “fixed income”, the mind immediately goes to those on disability, retirement, and the like. But if you stop and think about that last sentence, “But if you’re working, you can’t go to your boss and say you need a raise because your taxes have gone up.

Which means we’re all on a fixed income. We’re told to be thankful for what we have, but when you can’t afford what you used to be able to because pay raises don’t keep up with cost of living, how can one truly be thankful?


Local homeowners feel sting of assessments
A hot real estate market has some Peninsula residents facing life-altering decisions because of tax hikes.

BY JIM HODGES
l 247-4633

May 23 2005

Sarah Greene sits among packed boxes in her house in Newport News, pondering her future and presuming it will include an unwanted move to North Carolina.

“When I was a child, suckering (cutting the tops off) tobacco with my brother, we used to say if we ever got away from there we hoped we didn’t have extra money to send a postcard back,” Greene says of growing up in Pitt County, near Greenville, N.C.

“And … now it looks like I’m going to have to do it.”

Bill and Sylvia Wintermyer stand on the third-floor balcony of their house in Hampton’s Salt Pond, looking out over the Chesapeake Bay, hoping they won’t have to change vistas.

“We don’t want to move,” says Bill Wintermyer. “This is such an awesome place to live, but I can’t deal with the taxes.”

Greene, the Wintermyers and others on the Peninsula see themselves as victims rather than beneficiaries of a runaway real estate market that has sparked huge increases in property values over the past three years, with resultant increases in property taxes. Their neighbors sell houses for big money, so those who stay do so in homes worth more by association.

“We did a study in January that showed that real estate in Hampton is going up an average of 2 percent a month,” says Ron Agnor, head of the city’s assessor’s office. “That’s after 1.75 percent a month a year ago and 0.75 of a percent the year before that.”

Similar stories in other cities in Hampton Roads have sparked talk of a taxpayer revolution, much like the one that produced Proposition 13 in California in 1978. That measure capped annual reassessment increases at 2 percent, unless the property is sold. It restricted property taxation to 1 percent of assessed value.

Homeowners’ outcries have prompted city councils to lower tax rates in response. After hearing protests, the Virginia Beach City Council dropped its tax rate 17 cents per $100 of assessed value. Chesapeake and Norfolk lowered rates 5 cents.

Newport News – where assessments have gone up an average of 16 percent – has yet to set its tax rate but is considering a drop from last year’s $1.27.

When its City Council met May 11 to set its annual budget, Hampton also lowered its rate 5 cents, to $1.20 per $100. After reading that city assessments would increase an average of 23 percent, Domenic Vittorini calculated what he anticipated would be a higher tax bill and protested.

No one else showed up to lodge a complaint.

Three days later, when he and the rest of Hampton’s homeowners received their assessment statements, Vittorini found he was slightly off.

His property went up 13.5 percent.

“Last year, I got a little bit upset, but I didn’t go to the council meeting,” Vittorini says. “This year I decided to get it off my chest.”

His increase in 2004 was 15.5 percent. In three years, his assessments have gone up 47.9 percent.

Vittorini blamed having to stand alone before the council on others’ apathy.

That apathy has been shaken.

“On Saturday, when we got the assessment, my wife jumped up and said a few choice words,” says Remus Rhodes, who lives in Salt Pond. “I didn’t know what she was talking about. Then I looked and I said a few choice words.”

The assessment on his home had increased $83,900.

On Monday, the Hampton assessor’s office received 250 to 300 calls, Agnor says. He adds that it was about “average for this time of year.”

Joyce Renfroe says she called.

“I’m on a spit of water off the Hampton River,” she says. “The land value has gone up more than 100 percent in two years (from $31,400 to $80,000). The total assessment has gone up almost 100 percent in three years (from $89,500 to $164,400).

“The point is, most of us are in our home to live in our homes. We’re not expecting to be pushed out by a fluky real estate market.”

Vittorini, a retired Army officer who lives alongside West River in Hampton, agrees.

“I bought this house to live here,” he says. “I raised my children here, and I guess I’ll die here.”

He’ll have to pay to stay.

“My taxes went up $400,” he says. “That’s 50 percent over three years. Fifty percent is a hell of a big jump in three years.”

Any jump at all would be big for Greene, 80, who has lived in a house behind Christopher Newport University since 1977. She might not live there beyond next month.

“I don’t have much choice,” she says. Taxes (in Pitt County, N.C., where she’s pondering moving) with an acre of ground, three bedrooms, two baths, a kitchen and trash pickup are $600 a year. I’m paying close to $1,400 a year.

“The water bill is $25 every two months. Here it’s $140.”

Though Greene could qualify for tax relief from Newport News, she is skeptical about applying. She is also a stubborn product of the Depression.

“We went to the welfare and asked if we could have a little food and a dress for me to wear to school,” she says in a story of the Depression. “This lady opened the door to a closet and reached in and grabbed a dress that would have fit a 300-pound woman. My aunt asked, ‘With all those clothes, don’t you have anything smaller?’

“She said, ‘Lady, take it home and use a needle and thread and make it fit.’

“I have never wanted anything else to do with charity since, and I was a child.”

Her problem is one shared by many people living on a fixed income and trying to cope with property tax increases. Vittorini says he is paying his 50 percent jump in three years from a retirement income that has increased less than 10 percent over that time.

Wintermyer questions the term “fixed income” altogether.

“If you’re retired, you’re on a fixed income,” he says. “But if you’re working, you can’t go to your boss and say you need a raise because your taxes have gone up.”

His have increased $4,000 in the past four years, to $7,737.60. Along the way, his home has appreciated from $291,000 to $644,600.

“Last year, it went up $250,000, and that was a big boost for one year,” says Wintermyer, a manufacturer’s representative. “Then this year it goes up (by $64,000). But I don’t want to capitalize on it by selling.”

Neither do most of his neighbors.

“I know it’s a seller’s market, and if you’re selling, that’s OK,” says Nancy Rhodes, who lives across the street. “But if you’re in the house to live, that hurts.”

It also means you have to think about the future.

“What if interest rates go through the roof?” says Tammy Staton, who lives next to the Wintermyers.

Adds Renfroe: “How long is this going to go on?”

And Vittorini: “This is the gift that keeps on giving for Hampton.”
Copyright © 2005, Daily Press

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