Your View: When it comes to property assessments, question City Hall


To the editor:
Twice in the last three years, I have questioned my property assessment. On both occasions, I have come away from interactions with the citys staff frustrated that the process is opaque and deeply concerned that staff and the city council seem unwilling to take reasonable steps to make this very important process more transparent to Alexandrias property owners. I seriously doubt that my experience is unique and urge every property owner in Alexandria to ask hard questions about your assessment.
My problem with the assessment process began in 2009 when the city proposed a substantial increase in the levy on my property. I challenged the assessment and began what can only be described as an absurd and patronizing process in which the staff went to great lengths to avoid providing me with direct answers to my questions. 
Among my questions was, if property owners are organized by study groups, why isnt the full list of properties in a taxpayers study group made available for an online search? Staff responded that to do so would be complex and could crash the citys computer system. Really? In a world where huge amounts of data are routinely made available for search online, this farce of an explanation doesnt hold up. 
Unfortunately, when I pressed my case by urging the council to require such information to be fully transparent and searchable, I did not receive a single response from our elected officials.
Ultimately, the city made a modest adjustment in the assessment on my home and corrected its obvious error in the assessment of my land, but had I failed to aggressively pursue the matter, Alexandria would have happily extracted considerably more tax revenue from me than was just. The city will do so from you, too, if you dont ask questions.
This year, after again receiving an assessment increase that looked oddly high, I began asking questions. I asked the citys staff to explain how it arrived at its conclusion and to provide details regarding the specific, objective, auditable criteria that are employed in determining proposed assessments. My first request for this information was ignored. When I asked again, the staff refused to provide the information and informed me that because e-mail correspondence is unproductive, any further exchange would have to be in person after I fill out a request for a meeting. 
A more likely explanation is they find email inconvenient because it is hard to be evasive in writing and they would prefer to try bamboozling me in person. They probably hope Im too busy to pursue the matter and that Ill just go away. Thats just sad; it should not take a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain answers from bureaucrats supported by our taxes.
Given that the council seems intent on extracting ever increasing amounts of revenue from Alexandrias property owners, it seems reasonable that the process by which these taxes are levied should be as transparent and objective as possible.
Before Alexandrians are asked to accept yet another increase in our taxes, council should fix an assessment process that is opaque and, I fear, largely subjective.