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Commissioners back lower tax assessment cap

February 22, 2006|by TARA REILLY and TAMELA BAKER

HAGERSTOWN

tarar@herald-mail.com

tammyb@herald-mail.com

While some Washington County Commissioners were surprised two weeks ago over a proposal by local legislators to reduce the county's annual cap on residential property assessments, they voted unanimously Tuesday to support the bill.

The County Commissioners said they also wanted state lawmakers to lower the state's cap on assessments.

Commissioner James F. Kercheval said after the discussion a reduced cap should apply to both the county and state.

The cap, known as the Homestead Tax Credit, limits the percentage by which property assessments may rise a year.

The county's cap is 10 percent, which means that, for tax purposes, assessments may rise by no more than 30 percent over the three year-period in which properties are assessed.

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It's one of the highest caps in the state.

If approved, the lower cap would take effect Oct. 1 and apply to tax years beginning after June 30, 2007.

Commissioner John C. Munson said he thought the date should be moved up to June 30, 2006.

Munson said by phone after the meeting that state Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, assured him that he and Delegation Chairman Christopher B. Shank would support changing the date.

John Munson also said he didn't think state lawmakers would lower the state's assessment cap.

"That's not going to happen," Munson said. "They're going to amend the date on it. That's all they're going to do."

Members of the Washington County Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly welcomed the commissioners' decision.

"I'm very pleased that the county commissioners agreed with our lead on this matter," said Del. LeRoy Myers, R-Washington/Allegany. He called the decision to back the bill "a good start."

"I'm also very pleased that with an issue so important, we had a unanimous vote," he added.

"Obviously the county commissioners have been hearing the same message from county citizens about property assessments and taxes, and they listened well," said Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington.

"I'm glad to see that we're all in agreement that our constituents need some relief," added Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington.

Shank said the commissioners had "recognized the delegation has acted in good faith to assist with the Growth Management Act (excise tax on new development)" and other initiatives to aid the county in handling growth. "I'm pleased they saw it was equally important to provide our constituents with much-needed tax relief," he said.

He added that the delegation was committed to making the effective date of the lower cap as early as constitutionally possible.

The bill to reduce the cap was filed Feb. 9. It is scheduled for a hearing at 1 p.m. March 1 before the House Ways and Means Committee.

House Bill 1065

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