Council increases property tax to help pay new high school’s staff, but some residents feel stung by their rising bill

High demand for houses in Harrisonburg has driven up home values in recent years. (File photo)

Edward Garrison bought his home in Harrisonburg in 1997 for $180,000, and like many city residents, watched the property value steadily increase over the next two decades. 

By 2021, his home’s value increased by about $108,000 since the day he bought it, he said. Then, with home prices sharply spiking amid high demand, it took just two more years for the house’s value to jump by another $108,000. 

While that’s good for a person’s portfolio of financial assets, it comes with a cost. Rising property values means higher property tax bills for homeowners. Some residents, including Garrison, pushed back against the city’s proposed real estate tax increase at a public hearing Tuesday night but to no avail. The Harrisonburg City Council voted to raise the real estate tax to $1.01 for every $100 of assessed value. That would be an increase of 5 cents from the current rate of $0.96. The tax bill on a house valued at $200,000 will increase by $100 to $2,020 once the increase takes effect after July 1. 

For a home like the one Garrison owns, this means an increase of $198 over last year, bringing his bill to $3,999.60. But considering his property tax bill in 2020 was less than $2,500, there’s some sticker shock.  

“At some point, something has to yield,” Garrison said. 

Garrison was among six people who argued Tuesday night against the council’s increase of the tax rate as part of the 2024-25 fiscal year budget. The final rate of $1.01 is scaled back from the initial budget proposal, which city staff members unveiled at the April 9 council meeting. That proposal called for a rate of $1.04 for every $100 of assessed value. 

Ultimately, the council members said the revenue from the higher real estate property tax would help the community in the long run. 

The majority of revenue from increasing real estate taxes will go toward hiring staff at Rocktown High School, said council member Dany Fleming. “Supporting our staff” is the priority that the council set forth when creating the proposed budget with the real estate tax increase, he added. 

“This a burden,” he said, “but it’s also an investment into our future — a good investment.”

Building the new Rocktown High School, which is expected to cost more than $100 million when it opens in the fall, prompted the city council to increase the real estate tax rate from $0.86 per $100 of assessed value in 2020. In that time, Harrisonburg’s tax rate has surpassed other cities’ rates, such as Staunton ($0.89) and Waynesboro, which lowered its rate last year by 13 cents to $0.77 per $100. 

Council member Monica Robinson also voiced her support for the tax increase. She said her goal in raising taxes is to better fund schools and increase access to education for more students.

“No, I don’t want to have taxes in my household,” Robinson said, “but I will do that as an investment into the future.”

Other people who spoke against the tax increase at Tuesday’s public hearing said they were afraid the city would never have affordable housing if real estate values and taxes continue to rise.

Harrisonburg resident Karen Thomas asked the Council to “please reconsider” the increase in property taxes.

“No matter what it is, I think we have been taxed,” taxed again, and taxed some more, Thomas said. “I think it’s enough for the constituents at this point.”

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