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Homeowners will pay if rental program fails

November 01, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

If you own your own home in Hagerstown, it will cost you real money if you ignore the city council's struggle to enact a rental property inspection program. If rental property isn't improved and the tax base stays flat, homeowners will pay more than their fair share.

After the Hagerstown City Council passed a compromise version of the bill, we assumed that the landlords would accept it as an inevitable improvement to life in the city. After all, cities all over Maryland, including Rockville, Annapolis, Frostburg and Cumberland have such programs.

It's the right thing to do for the protection of the city's rental tenants and for the city's tax base, which has grown so slowly that in 2001, the city finance department projected that property taxes would have to be increased 35 percent over the following five years to keep the budget balanced.

If your home is worth $100,000, the projected increases would take your property tax bill from $732 to $992 over five years' time. If, however, the value of rental property increases, the amount the city asks homeowners to pay could be less.

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The decision by the Landlords and Property Owners Association to take the matter to referendum is doubly disappointing, because the council passed a compromise version of the ordinance that cut inspections from once a year to once every three years, or whenever there's a change in tenants.

Councilman Kristin Aleshire also offered to work with the group to amend the property-maintenance code to eliminate nit-picky items and key on those related to tenants' health and safety.

Apparently that wasn't enough. In a letter to landlord association members, Allan Johnson, the group's president, says the object is to delay implementation until the next city election in 2005.

Forget that. The $26,500 cost of a special election will quickly be recouped as properties are improved in the city. We recommend the council schedule it right after property tax bills are sent out, so homeowners see what is at stake.

It's time to educate homeowners and city residents about what they'll lose if this is defeated. For some it will be money, for others the quality of life. Hagerstown can't afford either. Say "no" to the landlords.

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