By Emma Mansfield
Rockbridge County homeowners whose property values skyrocketed above a county-wide average of 21% will now pay more in taxes.
The Rockbridge County Board of Supervisors lowered real estate taxes last month by 13 cents to offset rising property values after a state-mandated reassessment.
But the board can only equalize the tax, not the impact.
The tax will hit homeowners in the $200,000 to $400,000 range the hardest, Board of Equalization member Steven Hart said. Many of these property values spiked to unprecedented levels after the reassessment.
“We’re very worried about that. We realize that in general, they have been assessed higher than the people with more expensive housing,” Buffalo Supervisor Leslie Ayers said.
But rising property values are not limited to county homeowners.
Local resident David Wells lives in a single-family, two-story home in Lexington. He said that when he first bought his house nearly two years ago, the purchase price was about $150,000. Now after the reassessment, the reassessed value is close to $240,000.
“For it to jump that much is pretty incredible. And this is kind of a normal house, it’s not like a mansion like some of them are here,” Wells said.
The city recently granted Wells a tax break after he filed an appeal. Wells said that the reassessment had incorrectly factored in several renovations that had not yet been completed.
But even with the break, Wells said he’s still going to be paying hundreds of dollars more per year in property taxes than what he used to.
“It still increased but at least I got a break from what it would’ve been because it was going to be a whole lot higher,” Wells said. “And I know that a lot of people got hit harder than I did.”
The real estate market for homeowners in the $200,000 to $400,000 range has been especially hot over the last three years, said Leslie Giles, principal broker at Lexington Real Estate Connection.
“That’s the affordable price home range,” Giles said. “We have a huge demand in the city as well as the county for homes in that range.”
Giles said the pandemic and increasing interest in the Rockbridge area as a destination community are the main culprits behind the county’s rising property values.
“You don’t want to see it,” said Torben Pedersen, Rockbridge County Board of Equalization member. “Everything went up. It went up more than anybody expected.”
The reassessment is not meant to raise taxes. Instead, Virginia requires the county to reassess its properties every six years to match their current market values. The Board of Equalization evaluates the new property values for real estate tax purposes. The Board of Supervisors must then decide on a property tax rate to determine how much revenue the county will make.
Earlier this month, the supervisors agreed to equalize the cost for residents by lowering the property tax rate from 74 to 61 cents per $100. The county would break even with the new rate.
Ayers said the tax reduction is the best the board can do for county residents who are struggling with increasingly high property values following the reassessment.
“What we can do is realize that raising taxes on top of that would absolutely magnify the price,” she said.
But the tax reduction does not even out for residents whose property values increased above 21%. As with any tax, there are winners and losers.
“The problem is that 21% is not uniformly distributed,” Hart said. “We’re going to get a substantial shift in who’s bearing some of the real estate burden.”
Hart said he’s seen some properties go up by 35% and 40%. That kind of increase means residents will have to pay hundreds of dollars more in property taxes per year.
“It’s hard to see locals being priced out of the market,” Gilbert said.
Residents can contact the Rockbridge Reassessment team by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org if they disagree with their reassessed property values. Residents also have the option to file an appeal in person or fill out a 2023 Reassessment Hearing Application form on the Rockbridge County 2023 Real Estate Reassessment webpage.
But moving forward, the supervisors’ hands are tied as property values across the county continue to climb.
“If I could do anything, if I could wave my wand, I would equalize it for everybody,” Ayers said. “But we’re doing the best we can. And the best we can is not to raise taxes on our property owners.”