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Property tax bills likely to increase

April 26, 2005|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - By the numbers, property values in the 400 block of Guilford Avenue are on the rise.

A typical residential block in Hagerstown, last fall's state property tax assessments increased the value of the homes by thousands of dollars even though many of them hadn't changed physically since the previous assessment three years earlier.

That change in value might be attractive to someone looking to sell a home on the block, but for others, it's a bust.

"We're retired and we're on a fixed income, and everything keeps going up and up, and the taxes, I don't even know how to say it. It's horrendous, really," said Jerry Moore, 73, a Guilford Avenue resident reached by telephone Monday afternoon.

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This year, the City of Hagerstown is planning to keep the property tax rate the same, but with assessments on the rise, property owners still will be paying more. The city's budget, under consideration, must be passed by the City Council on or before May 31.

Moore and his wife live in half of a duplex. According to state tax records, the house was valued $75,860 last year. After the assessment, it was valued at $82,963.

In city taxes alone, the bill on the Moores' house will increase from $605 to $662. If the city's tax rate stays the same through 2007, the city property tax bill in that year will be about $774 because the assessed value of the house is projected to be about $97,000, Moore said.

According to city projections, the total assessed value of all real estate in city limits is about $1.63 billion. Last year's total city property assessment was slightly more than $1.51 billion.

The amount of property taxes the city is expecting to collect from the new assessments is about $13 million at the current tax rate, which is 78.9 cents per $100 of assessed property value.

City Finance Director Alfred Martin said on Monday that the current budget proposal reflects the position that the city wants to catch up on projects that had been put off in earlier, leaner years.

Martin also said "there's increased cost of running city government," including inflation in items like fuel and wages.

For the city to bring in the same amount of money it did last year, it would have to institute a tax rate of 74.2 cents per $100 of assessed value.

The City Council is beginning a more rigorous meeting schedule this week to consider the city's $107.7 million proposed budget. The tax rate discussion will be one of the things on the agenda during those meetings, council members said.

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said "lowering (the tax rate) certainly would be an objective" over the next few weeks.

Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire said one of his primary goals this budget season is to bring the tax rate back to the 2003-04 fiscal year's rate of 78.3 cents per $100 of assessed property value.

"I don't want to see it go up any more," Councilwoman Carol N. Moller said. "It's nice if it could go down."

Councilman N. Linn Hendershot said that while he wants to help senior citizens who live on fixed incomes find ways to shave living costs, right now "I'd like to see (the tax rate) stay the same."

He said some problems with reducing the tax rate are unanswered questions about how the city's budget will look in six months. The county soon will be drafting a new excise tax and the size of some state money transfers is not yet known, Hendershot said.

Councilwoman Penny M. Nigh said she won't know what position she'll take on the tax rate until further budget discussions have taken place.

Moore, the Guilford Avenue resident, said he works part time at a local funeral home. But if his property tax bills continue to rise much more, "it means I better have some money or I'll be in trouble. ... We'll have to give up something else. ... I might have to go get a job."

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