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Washington County Commissioners blame rising taxes on assessments

February 06, 2008|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- The Washington County Commissioners on Tuesday said they could do very little to address rising property tax bills resulting from soaring state property assessments.

Responding to an audience question during the 2008 State of the County address at the Four Points Sheraton on Dual Highway, the commissioners said the matter largely is out of their hands.

"We don't have control over how the state determines its assessments," Commissioner Kristin B. Aleshire said.

Many residents have wondered why their property assessments have gone up this year despite a decline in the housing market.

Commissioners President John F. Barr noted that the county recently lowered the assessment cap from 10 percent from 5 percent. He also said the county has held the property tax rate constant for several years.

However, if property values rise, taxes go up even if rates stay the same. To keep revenue at the same level, the county would have to lower the tax rate to what is known as the constant yield rate.

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Washington County's current real property tax rate is 94.8 cents per $100 of assessed value.

The constant yield rate is determined by the state.

It is a property tax rate that, when applied to new assessments, would produce the same property tax revenue as the prior year.

It has not yet been calculated for fiscal year 2009, but will be advertised at the end of this year's budget process, County Administrator Gregory B. Murray said.

The county is required to give notice and hold public meetings if they consider a tax rate higher than the constant yield rate, according to the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation.

Barr said Tuesday night that there is "no real resolve" among the commissioners to set the tax rate at the constant yield rate.

He said doing so would have an adverse effect on the county's ability to fund important projects.

"We have a huge list of infrastructure needs," Barr said. "I can't see taking that kind of cut."

The constant yield rate last year was calculated at 85.3 cents per $100 of assessed value. If the county had adopted that rate last year, it would have lost about $8 million in revenue, Murray said.

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