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County at top in increasing assessments

January 23, 2006|by TARA REILLY

WASHINGTON COUNTY

tarar@herald-mail.com

While the majority of Maryland's counties have tightened caps on how much property assessments can rise each year for tax purposes, Washington County allows the highest increase permitted by the state.

Ronald L. Bowers, the state's Property Tax Assessment Appeals Board administrator, said Washington County is one of nine counties in the state that has a 10 percent cap per year on property assessments.

The remaining 14 counties have lower caps, which provides some relief on property tax bills, said Bowers, a former Washington County Commissioner. Baltimore City also has a lower cap on taxable assessments.

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In Washington County, where the most-recent property assessments have risen 58.6 percent, they can increase no more than 30 percent over three years for tax purposes, because of the 10 percent annual cap.

Properties are assessed by the state every three years.

Frederick and Garrett counties have capped taxable assessments from rising no more than 5 percent a year, or 15 percent over three years, Bowers said.

Assessments may increase no more than 3 percent a year in Prince George's County, while Talbot County is capped at zero.

Bowers said rising assessments usually are criticized, but the real gripe among taxpayers is rising tax bills in areas that have the highest cap.

"The people complaining the most about assessments are in those places where (the cap) is at 10 percent," Bowers said. "The name of the game is taxes. The name of the game is not assessments."

Washington County Commissioner James F. Kercheval said last week he would support looking at adjusting the county's assessment cap, as well as a county-issued tax rebate.

The commissioners have the authority to lower the cap at any time, Bowers said.

"I don't have a problem with it being lower," Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell said Friday. "My concern is that it only helps one segment of the population."

The cap, known as the Homestead Property Tax Credit, applies to the principal residence of the property owner, according to the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation. It does not apply to nonresidential properties or properties in which the owner does not live.

Wivell said he would like a program in place that helps all taxpayers.

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