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Assessment appeals won't change property tax bills for this year

August 07, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- As area homeowners prepare to pay their annual property tax bills, which were mailed June 30, the state assessment office for Washington County has been getting calls from homeowners who want to know if they can lower their tax bill by protesting their home's assessed value, said Jerry L. Elmore, supervisor for the Washington County office.

The answer, at this point, is no -- at least for the current year's taxes, Elmore said. But homeowners who feel their assessment value is inaccurate can petition for an appeal in time to change next year's taxes, Elmore said.

Assessment appeals can be filed on three occasions, according to the State Department of Assessments and Taxation Web site.

One is upon receipt of an assessment notice. Every three years, property owners are sent a Notice of Assessment showing the old market value and the new market value of their property. Property owners who wish to appeal their new assessment can do so by signing and returning the enclosed appeal form within 45 days of the date of the notice, Elmore said.

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Properties in the eastern part of Washington County, including the Smithsburg, Boonsboro and Robinwood areas, are scheduled to be reassessed in January, Elmore said.

Property owners who didn't return their appeal form within 45 days can request an appeal by filing a petition for review before Jan. 1 of any year, he said. The petition form, available online, asks property owners to state why they feel the value or classification of their property is incorrect.

If a property's assessment is changed as a result of a petition for review, the new assessment takes effect the following Jan. 1, Elmore said.

The third occasion when a property owner can file an appeal is upon purchase of the property, if the property is transferred after Jan. 1 but before July 1, the department Web site says. In this case, the new owner can file an appeal within 60 days of the transfer.

Elmore said most of the appeals his office receives are filed in the 45 days after assessment notices are sent out, at the start of the calendar year.

The last assessments, sent out in January to property owners in the western and southern parts of the county, resulted in about 600 appeals, he said.

Not all appeals result in a change in assessment, Elmore said. Normally, 25 to 35 percent of appeals result in some kind of adjustment in the assessed value, he said.

The appeals that are most likely to succeed are those that include information about the condition of the house of which the assessor was unaware, such as water in the basement, Elmore said.

Another strategy that can produce results is to provide sale values from home sales that took place after the assessor's research or of which the assessor wasn't aware, he said.

Strategies that will not work include focusing on the amount of the tax bill or the percentage that the assessment increased or decreased, Elmore said.

When homeowners call to say they can't afford to pay their tax bills, Elmore said he recommends they find out if they are eligible for the state's Homeowners' Property Tax Credit Program.

That program is open to households with incomes of $60,000 a year or less and limits the amount of property taxes the homeowner has to pay to a certain percentage of their household income from the previous year, Elmore said.

For example, if a household's gross income in the previous year was $20,000, its maximum tax liability would be $780, he said.

The deadline to apply for the Homeowners' Property Tax Credit Program for this tax year is Sept. 1, Elmore said.




For petition forms and detailed information on the assessment appeal process, visit www.dat.state.md.us/sdatweb/appeal.html or call 301-791-3050.

The appeal process

1. Sign and return the appeal form included with your new assessment notice within 45 days of the date of the notice or fill out a petition for review before Jan. 1 of any year and mail it to your local assessment office. The Washington County office address is: 3 Public Square, Hagerstown, MD 21740.

2. Prepare evidence to indicate why the assessed value is inaccurate, such as mathematical errors on the worksheet used to determine your assessment, inaccurate information describing the characteristics of your property or sale values of comparable properties.

You can obtain a copy of the worksheet for your property free of charge from your local assessment office. For $1 per copy, the office can provide information about comparable properties in the area and their assessed values. You can obtain sales data about comparable properties in the area from the assessment office, local libraries, real estate offices or the newspaper.

3. You will be scheduled for an informal hearing with an assessor. These hearings typically take about 15 minutes. Following the hearing, you will receive a notice of the decision.

4. If you disagree with the decision, you can file an appeal within 30 days with the Property Tax Assessment Appeal Board, which is made up of three local residents.

5. If you are dissatisfied with the decision made by the appeal board, you can file an appeal within 30 days to the Maryland Tax Court, an independent body appointed by the governor.

6. Further appeals are possible through the regular judiciary system.

Source: Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation Web site

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