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County unhappy with tax study proposal

March 09, 2005|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - By this morning, state lawmakers probably will have received a letter from the Washington County Commissioners.

The message? The commissioners, not the state, should be in charge of studying rising property tax assessments in the county.

At a Tuesday meeting, the commissioners took issue with a bill proposed by the Washington County Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly that would create a seven-member commission to study tax assessments in the county.

The Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation has said Washington County residential property tax assessments will increase by 35.7 percent over the next three years, meaning taxpayers likely are facing higher property tax bills.

"I just believe that the delegation is getting into an area that is the responsibility of county government and not the responsibility of the (state)," Commissioner Doris J. Nipps said.

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She said it appeared to be a misunderstanding among delegation members that the commissioners supported the bill.

"I agree that it's not a delegation issue," Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell said.

Regarding the delegation, Wivell said there has been "meddling in county issues."

The commissioners voted unanimously to send a letter to each delegation member stating their opposition to the bill. They planned to fax the letters to Annapolis in time for this morning's delegation meeting.

Under the bill, the delegation would appoint four of the committee members, while the county would appoint the remaining members.

Nipps said the committee would have three months to analyze issues including the county's budget, property tax rate and recommendations on how to deal with high tax assessments.

"There's no accountability issue here," Nipps said. "These are regular citizens ... and they're going to figure all this out in three months."

"I am very upset about the bill," she said.

Commissioner James F. Kercheval said such issues take time to fully understand and that the delegation might have "gone beyond" its responsibility in the matter.

"I don't support this either," Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said.

Snook said the county has a low tax rate and that the Homestead Property Tax Credit will limit the percentage by which assessments rise for some property owners.

The Homestead Credit limits the increase in taxable assessments each year to a fixed percentage, according to the state Department of Assessments and Taxation.

"I think it was just a reaction to several phone calls they received," Snook said of the bill.

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