Rising taxes spark citizens

August 19, 2005|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS


Diane Eves and Ken Checkeye, neighbors in Hagerstown's North End, were chatting in front of Eves' home a few months ago, and the subject of their recent property tax assessments came up.

"I was blown away with my new tax assessment," Eves said in a recent interview. According to the tax assessor's office, her property value shot up 37 percent, from $73,080 to $100,270.

Her state, county and city tax bill will rise more than $400 through 2007 as the full value of the assessment phases in, even if no tax rate increases take place.


After that conversation with Checkeye, Eves, 55, spoke with co-worker Jennifer Smircina, 44. Eves, Checkeye and Smircina all faced a similar problem: Tight budgets, out-of-control housing costs and state remedies that don't meet their needs.

They decided they needed to do something to keep their taxes from rising so quickly.

Since then, they have contacted local officials and are trying to build their numbers in an effort to create political leverage to put the brakes on property taxes.

The three met for the first time in person earlier this month when they spoke with a reporter about their tax fears.

They have assigned themselves a name, The Alliance for Reasonable Taxation, and an e-mail address,

The three are all college educated and hold stable jobs, but they describe their budgets as marginal.

Smircina and Eves, both state employees, face small departmental wage increases. Checkeye, a computer systems consultant, relies on the health of the industry market.

Although they agreed they still were novices at organizing a tax movement, they said they're sure they are doing the right thing. They have found a politician willing to listen, and a letter published in July shook out supporters.

Washington County Commissioner William J. Wivell, who has urged his fellow commissioners to be careful with their spending, recently met with members of the tax group.

"I think it's simply a wake-up call to elected officials that we need to be pretty conservative, or thrifty with tax dollars," Wivell said. "That's pretty much all they're trying to do."

Wivell promised he would look into other ways to keep rates down, but the tax group hopes to come up with some of their own ideas, too.

Checkeye, for instance, said he believes officials take the so-called constant-yield rate more seriously. The constant-yield rate is the tax rate that is needed to collect the same amount of money as the previous year.

Another option, the group said, is one pursued this year in Montgomery County, Md. The County Council there lowered tax rates a few cents per $100 of assessed value, and gave a rebate of $116.

As e-mails and phone calls continue to trickle in, the group members aren't sure exactly what the next steps will be, whether it's regular meetings or mailing lists, but at Checkeye's home, Smircina and Eves took a stab at explaining how they felt about the situation.

"They're spending our money, and they need to be -" Smircina paused.

"- Spending it like we are -" Eves added.

"- Frugal," Smircina finished.

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