Cost Comparison: Falls Church vs. Arlington

Chances are pretty good that at some point recently you heard someone say how expensive Falls Church is to live. So I figured why not do a simple comparison of what it really costs to live here vs. our neighbors. Please note, the below numbers only include basic utilities. They exclude items not provided by the local jurisdiction (phone, Internet, TV, etc.). So here’s what I found……

 

Alexandria (City of)

*Property Tax: 1.038/$100 TAV

*Refuse: $328/yr.

*Sewer: $6.51/1000 gal.

*Water: $11.59 first 2000 gal; $1.93/1000 gal. above that

 

Arlington County

*Property Tax: 1.006/$100 TAV

*Refuse: $294/yr.

*Sewer: $8.63/1000 gal.

*Water: $3.98/1000 gal.

 

Fairfax County

*Property Tax: $1.085/$100 TAV

*Refuse: $345 (via 18 private companies)

*Sewer: $6.55/1000 gal. (plus $12.79/quarter)

*Storm Water: $.02/$100 TAV ($109/yr. for property with $545,279 TAV, i.e. County average)

*Water: $2.29/1000 gal. (current customers); 2.44/1000 gal. (new customers)

 

Falls Church City

*Property Tax: $1.305/$100 TAV

*Refuse: No extra charge

*Sewer: $8.62/1000 gal.

*Water: $3.27/1000 gal.

 

As noted above, only Fairfax County currently has a storm water fee. Falls Church has one in the works (expected in 2014). It’s not known whether it will be based on the amount of impervious service area of a given property or its TAV. The other jurisdictions will most likely have such a fee soon. Also you’ll notice we pay more for water than Fairfax. As stated by Fairfax Water, Falls Church will continue to pay the current rate for two years after the deal closes. It remains to be seen if we will then get the Fairfax rates.

 

Notes:

1. Rates are for 2013-14 fiscal year.

2. The above does not include minor fees (new accounts, Chesapeake Bay, leaf collection, etc.).

3. Refuse includes trash and recycling.

4. TAV: Tax Assessed Value

 

As you can see, non-property tax fees are similar and thus pretty much a wash. They’re not the reason someone chooses one area to live over another. I doubt few Falls Church residents would lose sleep over paying a bit more for water over Fairfax, assuming they even know it. The obvious difference is property taxes and ours are quite a bit higher. Here are the taxes by city/county for two fictitious properties.

 

$500,000 TAV

*Alexandria: $5190

*Arlington: $5030

*Fairfax: $5425

*Falls Church: $6525

 

$1,000,000 TAV

*Alexandria: $10,380

*Arlington: $10,060

*Fairfax: $10,850

*Falls Church: $13,050

 

Falls Church pays quite a bit more in comparison (26%–Alexandria, 30%–Arlington; 20%–Fairfax) for the $500K home. The differences for the $1M dollar property are 26%, 23%, and 20% respectively. Clearly Arlington is the lowest and given all their amenities–schools, parks, Metro, proximity to D.C., it’s a good deal. I would argue that Falls Church has essentially the same amenities but at a premium.

 

So Is The Extra Cost Worth It?

For now, yes. There’s no evidence to suggest folks are leaving Falls Church (or avoiding moving here) based on this cost difference–at least not yet. Those that know about the difference are okay with it (including me, for now). There are likely some that don’t even know it exists. But at what point do the scales start to tip? That’s almost impossible to say exactly when or at what tax rate. However it’s safe to say we’re closer to the tipping point now than we’ve even been. Were we hit that point, the repercussions would be severe. Once people started to question the value of Falls Church, we’d have a real problem.

While our commercial base is thankfully growing, we don’t enjoy the luxury of massive commercial space our neighbors have. So we’re forced to question/debate how much we spend and on what. Depending on how the expected storm water fee is calculated, it could easily make some home owners that much more irate–especially since many residents likely don’t know it’s coming. Maybe that could end up causing the silent majority to finally speak up.

 

So depending on whom you ask, you’ll get varying opinions as to what they’re willing to pay. That’s because there are both monetary and emotional reasons why people do what they do. And choosing where to live is prime example of a multi-faceted choice.