Forward to September 2006 Federation News ó Back to Federation of Citizens Associations main page ó Back to January 2006 Federation News
Volume 12, Issue 5, April 2006
3710 S Street, NW, Washington, DC 20007
(202) 338-5164 phone/fax
Assembly Speaker: Peter Craig, Esq.
High Water (Rates)
Elimination of Rent Ceilings in the District Under Consideration
2007 Property Assessments
Another Sacred Cow Regulated
Maria Tyler, A Personal Tribute, Kay Eckles, R.A.C.
Officers and Board
President's Message, George Clark
Eminent Domain, a Double-Edged Sword, Carroll Green, Manor Park
Council Hearings Just Show Biz?, Anne Renshaw, Chevy Chase
Avian Flu and You
Upcoming 96th Anniversary Awards Banquet
Do You Need to Be on an ANC?
Tax Increase Proposal
Federation Assembly Meeting Dates
Tuesday, April 25
THE CHARLES SUMNER SCHOOL
The Federation hosted Peter Craig, Esq., at its March assembly. Mr. Craig detailed both background and current progress regarding his five-year battle with the city, in and out of court, over current city modes of assessing residential real estate for tax purposes. In a city where who can last longer in civic contests is the winner, Mr. Craig is a civic hero.
In the spring of 1996, property owners in Cleveland Park, Observatory Circle, Massachusetts Avenue Heights, and Mount Pleasant complained about the new assessments proposed for the tax year 1997, on the grounds that they were based on across-the-board formulas that based assessments solely on one factor ó the gross building area of each house. Shortly afterward, Mr. Craig filed a class action lawsuit for areas in Triennial Group I. The city claimed that only individual appeals, not a class action suit, should be allowed.
Recently, the DC Superior Court found in Mr. Craigís favor on all points: DC had violated city and federal law by 1) denying due process (no notice of why), 2) denying equal protection (discrimination in assessments), 3) no considering differences in estimated market price versus real sale value (with add-on factors such as sale commissions and renovation costs). The judge denied a city proposal to reassess everyone, and ordered the DC government to give tax refunds to taxpayers in Triennial Group I. The District has appealed the ruling.
Mr. Craig requested that the Federation consider entering an amicus brief in the ongoing case, and this was passed unanimously by the assembled delegates. Mr. Craig also suggested that associations and individuals query mayoral candidates as to whether they are prepared to "clean house" at the Office of Tax and Revenue (OTR), and whether the candidates have proposals for effective oversight of OTR with regard to property assessments (e.g., by the city council or by an independent agency).
With Washingtonís already high end monthly water and sewer rates, consumers are not welcoming proposed increases in the utility load. Mr. Jerry Johnson, WASA general manager, will explain the proposal and the rationale for a rate hike at the April 25 assembly. Mark your calendars. He will doubtless be prepared for citizensí anguished protests. This is a not-to-be-missed meeting.
On Monday, April 10, Councilman Jim Graham, Chairman of the Committee of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, will convene a public roundtable on "Possible Ramifications of the Elimination of Rent Ceilings in the District of Columbia." Federation delegates, other "interested parties, stakeholders (sic), and the public" are invited to comment on the possible implications of amending the Rent Control Act of 1985 to eliminate the rent ceiling component of the Districtís rent stabilization laws. A city council announcement notes that, "This would be one more step in a series of recent significant reforms of rent control by the Committee and the Council."
Persons wishing to testify or to submit written testimony should contact Mr. John Adams at 202-724-8198 before 5 p.m., Friday, April 7. Witnesses will be permitted three minutes for oral presentation and should bring 16 copies of their testimony. Written statements are encouraged from persons unable to appear in person, and should be sent to Mr. John Adams, Committee on Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, Room 112, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20004, by close of business on Wednesday, April 19.
[DC government press release, as quoted in the Glover Park Gazette newsletter, March 2006]
The Office of Tax and Revenue (OTR) recently mailed out assessment notices to all real property owners in the District of Columbia. A total of 183,000 taxable and exempt real properties have been reassessed to reflect current market value. Property owners receiving new assessment notices will not be taxed on the new assessed value until March 2007.
Proposed assessments of residential properties in the District, on average, will increase 21.8 percent above the previous yearís assessments. Current legislation provides for an owner-occupied residential tax cap. It is a credit applied against the tax due on the portion of the reassessment exceeding 10 percent from the prior year. The credit does not reduce the assessed value of the property on the tax rolls or the assessment notice, but will appear as an automatic credit on the tax bill.
"Not all properties will change in value by the same rate," said Thomas Branham, chief assessor in OTRís Real Property Tax Administration. "We are conducting more property-specific appraisals than in the past, making values more equitable and reflective of the market. Low interest rates along with continued improvement in employment have increased the demand for the limited supply of housing in the District."
Residential assessments are determined by analyzing approximately 10,000 recent sales occurring within 128 neighborhood and sub-neighborhoods established by OTR throughout the District. The levels of recent assessment increases are similar to those experienced by other jurisdictions in the Washington metropolitan area. Arlington County reports that its increase in residential assessments is 18.25 percent above 2005ís average assessments. A portion of Montgomery County, which has not been reassessed for the past three years, has increased 70.4 percent for residential properties, for an annualized rate of more than 23.5 percent. Marylandís statewide increase is 20.1 percent above last yearís assessments.
The assessment notice contains not only proposed assessed value information, but important information related to property tax relief programs such as the Homestead Deduction and the owner-occupied residential tax cap. Also included on the notice is contact information if a taxpayer wishes to discuss the assessment with their assessor.
District property owners who believe their proposed assessment does not reflect the market value of their property are encouraged to file an appeal on or before the April 3, 2005, deadline. The appeal process begins when a property owner submits an appeal application to OTR. Information about the appeal process and the appeal application is available in the Real Property Service Center and at libraries and fire stations throughout the District.
Associations and residential neighborhoods have had to contend with encroaching institutions over the years, with little or no assistance from the city. The situation has improved during the current mayoral incumbency, as new blood in the city bureaucracy diversified old, establishmentarian ways of addressing citizen problems.
In recent years, the city has moved to get a firmer grip on university expansionist encroachments ó even winning a major lawsuit against George Washington University, which brazenly claimed immunity from city regulation. Schools have been a problem in recent years, as teachers assert a newly found entitlement to guaranteed parking ó on school property if possible, on the residential streets if not. The DC Department of Transportation has tried compromise solutions involving schools, citizens associations, and DOT honchos. Embassies must now seriously seek city permission to install large radio dishes or other impacting electronic devices. Now the turn of churches with slipshod or overly impacting Sunday parking practices has come.
In recent weeks the city has moved to control Sunday church parking in the beset Logan Circle area. Previously, churchgoers have tended to double-park around their churches, blocking residentsí driveways and impeding traffic. Association members, other activists, and church spokesmen got together earlier this year to seek solutions. They contacted the Department of Transportation and suggested diagonal parking in impacted areas. Community sources report that DOT will start redrawing parking lines in early April to accommodate 77 permanent parking spaces and 78 Sunday-only spaces. Anyone parking illegally after the new plan is implemented will face, according to DOT, official parking enforcers throughout the city.
This is a case of a community association and its civic partners doing their job creatively by meeting a problem head-on, succeeding in accosting detractors in a cooperative fashion, agreeing on a solution, and lining up city collaboration and enforcement. The busy and alert Logan Circle Association (now joining the Federation) did the entire city a considerable service with their wise and measured activism.
Tyler, A Personal Tribute
|Patrick Allen, Esq.
Association of Oldest Inhabitants
Allen E. Beach, Treasurer
Francis M. Clarke, III
George Clark, Esq., President
Dino J. Drudi
Kathryn A. Eckles
Carroll Green. Past President
James H. Jones, Second Vice President
Ann Loikow, Esq.
Sally MacDonald, Secretary
Ann Renshaw, First Vice President
A.L. Wheeler, Esq.
The Federation has joined as an amicus curiae in a petition to have the Supreme Court hear a case to declare the Home Rule Charterís ban on a commuter tax unconstitutional. In 2004, a group of DC citizens, including the mayor and the council (and DC as an entity) filed suit in US District Court to declare the ban on a "commuter tax" unconstitutional as violating, among other things, the clause of the Constitution requiring that "all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States." The claim is that because nonresident income taxes are prohibited only in DC and not anywhere else, the provision is unconstitutional. This is a novel theory in an area that the US Court of Appeals here called "not exactly well-trodden constitutional terrain." Defendants include the United States, Maryland, and Virginia. Judge John Roberts, now Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, wrote the opinion denying relief in the appellate court.
The petition is being filed in the first week of April. We are joining in a brief prepared on behalf of the District of Columbia Affairs section of the DC Bar and all the past presidents of the DC Bar. Other parties joining in include the Civil Federation, the Federal City Council, and the DC Chamber of Commerce.
George Washington University seeks to impose a new campus plan even though the current one has many more years to run. We see this as an effort to do away with campus plans, and as a very important issue. We are gearing up our old campus plans task force. Please contact me if you or your association wants to join in. The universities speak with a unified voice. We think that the residents can benefit from the same approach.
We may also join as an amicus in support of Peter Craigís successful battle over illegal DC property tax assessments. Finally, we welcome two more new associations, the Logan Circle Community Association and the Park View Civic Neighborhood Association. Enjoy those cherry blossoms!
At its March 9 meeting, the Federation Executive Board:
Established a newsletter production committee of four.
Discussed the 96th Anniversary Awards Banquet honors list
Authorized the president to enter the Federation as a party in the ongoing George Washington University campus plan lawsuit
Discussed campus plan issues with George Washington University
Reviewed baseball oversight committee issues
Discussed March 14 Federation testimony on the Air Rights Bill
Discussed Federation testimony for the March 30 DC Fire & EMS FY07 Budget Request hearing
Since the US Supreme Court held 5-4 in Kelo v. New London that the use of the condemnation process for seizing private property for private gain and enhancement of the municipal tax base meets the standard of condemnation "for public use," there has been an outcry across the nation that this issue is a potential national epidemic. State legislatures and municipal governments are enacting laws strictly limiting the definition of "public uses" for which eminent domain can be used to seize private property.
No fewer than nine states have acted to limit the use of eminent domain. The other 41 are considering bills to do likewise. At least two banks, North Carolina-based BB&T, the nationís ninth largest, and Missouri-based Montgomery Bank, have declared that they will not extend loans to private developers to support projects resulting from the use of eminent domain.
A petition drive in Yorba Linda, California, forced the city council to rescind, unanimously, new zoning units for its Town Center area. The Council also agreed to eliminate its power of eminent domain in the area, not to use eminent domain for economic development, to generate tax revenue, or to transfer private land to private developers. Yorba Linda Residents for Responsible Redevelopment is supporting a June 6 ballot measure that would give voters the final say over major projects. In several cases, most notably in Meza, Arizona, and Lakewood, Ohio, citizens have been successful in defeating the local governmentís attempts to seize private property to hand over to private developers.
In the waning months of the Williams administration, red-faced and somewhat flushed from the baseball debacle, city officials are seeking council approval to use eminent domain in the neighborhood that includes the Sursum Corda complex. The council would be well advised to leave on the table the request from the lame-duck administration.
Interestingly, some months ago KSI Services, Inc., entered into an agreement with residents of Sursum Corda to save the property from foreclosure by federal housing officials. In return, residents are guaranteed an $80,000 cash payment or $80,000 towards the purchase of a new home. That deal also calls for KSI to build 500 townhouses and apartments on the property.
The administration, throughout its tenure, has focused on development and developersí interests, no matter the cost to residents. The theme "for the public good" seems to be lost in the rhetoric of election-year politics only in the District of Columbia, where more than half the city council is seeking reelection or elevation in public office.
The use of eminent domain to develop short-term municipal-owned parking facilities in our city would, unquestionably, be for the public good. But such an effort would require vision and political will, which seem to be in very short supply. Citizen apathy and the fact that lobbyists have a firm grip on the Wilson Building remain the greatest deterrents to the improvement of the quality of life in our city.
When 45 DC citizen organizations appeal to the city council to investigate the delivery of emergency medical services to the public, one assumes the council will take prompt action by the time the citizensí leadership appears at a televised council hearing. Guess again.
Federation officers George Clark, Carroll Green, and Anne Renshaw testified at the March 30, 2006, FY 2007 Budget Request hearing of the DC Fire & Emergency Medical Services (FEMS) to press for significant changes to DCís beleaguered emergency medical services (EMS), which handles 75% or more of the departmentís emergency incidents per year.
"As recent press reports concerning the death of David Rosenbaum and the horrendous mistreatment of Monica Yin demonstrate, the fire and emergency (medical) services in the District of Columbia does not work for our city and our residents," said Federation President George Clark to Councilmember Phil Mendelson, Chairman of the Councilís Judiciary Committee, which oversees FEMS. "The breakdown has reached the point of scandal and cries out for immediate and urgent investigation and action." The Federation once again urged Councilmember Mendelson to seat a panel of EMS experts, including knowledgeable citizens, to study and report on the best configuration of FEMS. Back in January, the Federation asked Councilmember Mendelson "to accelerate the formation of a blue-ribbon panel to examine the workings of DCF&EMS with special scrutiny of ambulance delays and the need for additional medical transports staffed by full-time EMS medical providers."
"Why are ambulances frequently not available in certain times and parts of the city?" asked Anne Renshaw, Federation 1st Vice President. "Why must we rely on large, expensive fire apparatus, staffed with 4 or 5 firefighters, to do what ambulances do in other large cities? Why must firefighters be persuaded and sometimes forced to ride the ambos?" She pointed out that FEMS is requesting over $9 million more (to a proposed level in excess of $165 million) to support a single, fire-based department in FY2007, "whether or not that is proven to be the most efficient, cost effective, and reliable configuration of this important public safety agency."
According to Carroll Green, Federation Past President and current President of Manor Park Citizens Association, "This terrible experiment of cross training of fire and emergency medical personnel continues to be an enormous failure, much to the detriment of the health and safety of our citizens."
All this fell on deaf ears. Instead of introducing EMS experts and citizens who would comprise the councilís EMS investigative panel, incredibly, Councilmember Mendelson announced at the March 30 hearing, yet another Judiciary Committee public hearing, scheduled for May 11, "to look at how the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department delivers emergency medical services in the District of Columbia and how the system of service can be improved."
Thereís more. The hearing "will focus on, among other things, the prioritization of emergency medical calls, the availability and number of advance life support providers, the number of emergency transport vehicles, and the training of Fire and Emergency Medical Services personnel." And it will take place after the FY07 budget is approved, making it all but meaningless.
Sounds like an assignment for the FEMS blue-ribbon panel. But, no. On May 11, Judiciary Committee witnesses will be allowed only five minutes to address the weighty issues listed above; if many witnesses sign up, each personís time to testify will be reduced. In other words: "Councilmember Mendelson to expert witnesses: keep it short ó Iíve already decided."
Why bother? EMS Union President Kenneth Lyons already told Councilmember Mendelson that his union, which represents civilian career EMS professionals to the rank of sergeant, would probably not participate in the May 11 event. Senior level EMS civilian personnel will also not testify, as they are "at will" employees who fear being retaliated against or even terminated if they speak openly about the department.
Citizens to council: hear us loud and clear. The Federation has written letters and also testified several times for the formation of a new special council committee, with subpoena power, to spend possibly 2 to 4 months (not a few hours) carefully investigating FEMS. The Federation also asked the council to hold FEMS to its FY06 budget level until the systematic managerial problem is resolved. The DC Fire & EMS Department debacle must not be a TV reality show. The departmentís problems are deep-seated and cannot be solved by a long line of five-minute witnesses offering their opinions and preferences on May 11.
We, the Districtís citizens and voters, beseech and expect the council immediately to activate a long overdue FEMS investigative panel, not another public hearing on Emergency Medical Services that, in the end, is nothing but an election year photo opportunity and a televised show.
Not to panic. While the avian (bird) flu may be headed this way, according to the secretaries of Health and Human Services, Agriculture, and Interior, the virus does not spread easily human-to-human. However, the District plans to hold a pandemic flu "summit" on April 28 at Gallaudet University. Call 202-442-9195 to sign up.
Plans proceed apace for this yearís biggest Federation annual blowout. Our principal speaker will be ace newspaperman and television personality Tom Sherwood. The gala affair will be held as usual in the glamorous main ballroom of the Fort McNair Officers Club. Itís time to begin arranging association tables of eight. (The Association of Oldest Inhabitants already has one table.) The cost this year will be the same as several previous years: $50. Best bargain in town.
The Board of Elections and Ethics has given notice that there are currently twelve Advisory Neighborhood Commission vacancies: 3D07, 3D08, 5C10, 6B11, 7A07, 7C04, 8B022, 8B03, 8C05, 8C06, 8E01, and 8E06.
The petition circulation period is Monday, March 20, through Monday, April 10. The petition challenge period is Thursday, April 13, through Thursday, April 30.
Candidates seeking ANC office, or their representatives, may pick up nominating petitions at the Board of Elections and Ethics, 441 4th Street, NW, Room 250N. For additional information, call 727-2525. Election Board personnel are unfailingly helpful.
Just out is the report that Mayor Anthony Williams has proposed a $62.2 million tax increase. According to the Washington Times, the residential deed and recordation tax that residents pay when buying or selling property would rise from 1.1 percent to 1.5 percent. The council recently rejected a 0.1 percent rise in the same tax.
Washington, DC, is one of the most heavily taxed jurisdictions in the country, with plenty of alternative areas surrounding it, and additional taxes will not help the mayorís campaign to attract tens of thousands of new residents, hopefully home buyers, into the city. The Roman emperor Tiberius had it right, when he famously observed, "A good shepherd shears his flock; he does not flay them" (Suetonius). District residents do better than Swedish taxpayers on budget-squeezing taxation. But who doesnít? The outgoing mayor and successful Chief Financial Officer for the District should be reducing the tax load rather than imposing new levies. Letís hope the city council doesnít swallow this newest attempt at raising the pain threshold.
April 25, 2006
May 17, 2006 (Annual Awards Banquet)
June 27, 2006
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