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Property assessment pain

January 14, 2006|By TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY -

Property values for the portion of Washington County reassessed by the state for 2006 will increase 58.6 percent over the next three years, according to the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation.

Washington County Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell said residents are getting tired of the increases, which typically mean higher tax bills.

"Assessments are really getting out of hand," Wivell said.

The state assesses one-third of the county every year. The properties recently assessed, mainly in western Washington County, south to Williamsport and the southern part of the county, won't be reassessed for another three years. The Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation mailed the assessment notices to property owners in the reassessed areas in December.

The 58.6 percent increase in the latest round of assessments has been part of a trend in the state and county. The state average is 60.2 percent over the three-year period.

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Washington County assessments increased by 31.3 percent for properties reassessed for 2004 and 32.4 percent for properties reassessed for 2005.

"I certainly think it's a concern," Commissioner James F. Kercheval said of the rising assessments.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said the state's numbers do not give a true picture of the assessment increases, and Wivell and Commissioner John C. Munson said it's time the county provides tax relief for its residents.

"Some people are being taxed out of their homes," Munson said.

Wivell said he attended a local delegation meeting last week, and one-third of the residents who attended spoke about rising assessments.

"It's obvious people are getting upset about it," Wivell said.

"Assessments are good whenever you sell your house," Kercheval said. "Whenever you're holding it, it's not always a good thing."

Commissioner Doris J. Nipps did not return a phone call for comment Friday.

Snook said the state percentages weren't the whole picture because they do not include the county's cap on assessments. Caps prevent assessments for qualified properties from increasing by more than 10 percent per year.

Based on that, Snook said assessments for the qualified properties can go up no more than 30 percent over the next three years.

The 10-percent-per-year cap, which is the highest allowed by the state, applies to homes in which the owner lives, not commercial properties or residences that are rented.

"It's not really a true figure because of the caps in place," Snook said of the state numbers. "The most it could go up would be 30 percent."

Wivell said 30 percent was too high, and because the cap only applies to properties in which the owner lives, renters likely will end up paying for the rising assessments.

"If it's not owner-occupied, they have no cap at all," Wivell said.

Wivell said he would like the other commissioners to consider an across-the-board exemption that affects owner-occupied and tenant-occupied properties.

"Of course, since I suggested it, they probably won't agree with it," Wivell said.

Snook said the commissioners plan to give $2 million in rebates to property owners, but they haven't decided how to distribute the rebates. The rebates would total $40 if the commissioners distributed the money based on the county's approximately 50,000 taxable accounts.

"There will be some kind of rebate ... We just don't know how much yet or exactly when," Snook said.

Last fiscal year, which ended June 30, the county received about $2 million in tax revenue as a result of higher taxes, Kercheval said.

Kercheval said he supports considering rebates and looking into adjusting the county's assessment cap.

Some counties have lower caps on assessments. For example, Frederick County has a 5 percent cap, while Baltimore City and Baltimore County have 4 percent caps.

Snook said it was too early to tell exactly what the commissioners can do to offset higher assessments because they haven't started reviewing the budget for the coming fiscal year. He said he expects the commissioners to discuss the issue within 45 to 60 days.

Munson said he wants the county to lower its property tax rate to the constant yield tax rate. He proposed the same last year, "but they didn't want no part of it," he said.

The constant yield tax rate is set up to provide local governments with stable property tax revenue each year. As property assessments rise, the constant yield drops to the point where the revenue generated by the property tax stays at a constant level from one year to the next.

The state Department of Assessments and Taxation said in a Dec. 30 written statement that lowering property tax rates to the constant yield is one way local jurisdictions can provide some relief from higher tax bills.

The county's property tax rate is nearly 95 cents per $100 of assessed value, while the constant yield tax rate is 91 cents for every $100 of assessed value.

"I think it's time to do something," Munson said.

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