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AS ONE OF THE “LOBbyists for the downtown commercial interests” whose “intense lobbying pressure” Chairman Dave Clarke reportedly blames for the property tax rollback (“Loose Lips,” 2/17), I would be more than happy to take some credit, if only this were a credible version of events.
First, the facts. D.C.’s Department of Finance and Revenue lists over 11,700 properties in property tax Class Four (commercial). Of these, only 530 are downtown office buildings—meaning that over 11,000 are not (the “downtown” included in this data stretches from North Capitol Street to Rock Creek Park).
Another fact: The average Class Four property is assessed at $1.7 million. One will be hard-pressed to find a downtown office building with a valuation this low. Washington City Paper‘s modest building in Adams Morgan was assessed at exactly $1.7 million in 1993. When talking about the average Class Four property, we are not in Oliver Carr territory.
We are talking, instead, about the thousands of two-, three-, and four-story commercial structures that house beauty shops, corner groceries, hardware stores, crab houses, and dry cleaners in Anacostia, Adams Morgan, and Georgetown, on U Street, H Street, and Georgia Avenue. For them, the prospect of clearing another $2,850 to pay for the hike is not nearly as easy as the chairman or the mayor would have the public believe. One more fact: In D.C. and everywhere else in America, commercial leases make tenants responsible for paying property tax increases.
While office buildings do account for the lion’s share of dollars collected in Class Four, that fact was of no comfort to the owners and tenants of the city’s 11,000 other commercial properties. Businesses large and small take issue with the mayor’s claim that “they want to contribute nothing,” and with the chairman’s lamentable statement during the debate that “the business community doesn’t care about us, it only cares about its money.”
The record of the last decade makes clear that taxes paid primarily by businesses are the only reason the current day of fiscal reckoning was able to be put off for so long. However, businesses are now leaving or closing because of D.C. taxes. They did contribute, and many of them did care about the city. But the city never seemed to care about them.
Fortunately, seven councilmembers are showing a remarkable determination to bring about change in the way District government treats citizens and businesses alike. I don’t believe that “intense lobbying pressure” from me or anyone else could, or should, have changed their course.
Vice President, Governmental Affairs, Apartment and Office Building, Association of Metropolitan Washington, Downtown