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Washington County home assessments drop, but commercial properties rise

December 28, 2011|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com

Residential property values dropped 16.7 percent in the newest round of assessments done in Washington County, while commercial values rose 6.8 percent, according to state figures released this week.

The Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation reported the new figures based on about 15,366 residential accounts and about 1,529 commercial accounts.

The new assessments were mailed Tuesday to about one-third of Washington County.

Under Maryland's triennial assessment system, property values are updated every three years — one-third per year.

Adam Lewis, the supervisor of the Department of Assessments and Taxation's local office, said the newly assessed properties were in a region that mainly runs along the Potomac River, from Hancock east and south to Clear Spring, Williamsport, Keedysville, Sharpsburg and Rohrersville.

Commercial properties in Halfway, Maugansville and Cedar Lawn also were included.

The new values take effect Jan. 1.

If residential and commercial properties are grouped together, Washington County's total loss for the newly reassessed region was about 9 percent.

In 2010 and 2011, the total property value loss for the other two regions of the county was about 18 percent each year, a sharp downturn after several years of large gains.

Residential values alone in the previous region reassessed in the county — the city of Hagerstown and the surrounding areas of Cedar Lawn, Halfway and Maugansville — dropped about 24 percent.

Washington County's changes are not far from what Maryland has seen overall in the latest reassessment period. Residential values are down 17.1 percent, and commercial values are up 1.1 percent.

Property values are significant because they decide how much tax money governments have to spend. Local governments might have to raise their property tax rates if declining property values result in lower tax revenue.

However, Lewis cautioned that residential property taxes still could rise if property values decline. That's because under Maryland's homestead law, annual increases to taxable property values are capped.

The state's limit is 10 percent. Washington County's cap, for figuring local property tax rates, is 5 percent.

People who live on property they own are eligible for a Homestead Tax Credit, if they apply for it. Lewis said homeowners in the recently reassessed region were sent reminders to apply for the credit if they hadn't.

Every Maryland county and the city of Baltimore experienced an overall decline in their total property values in the latest reassessment.

The steepest drop was a 36.5 percent decline in residential property values in Prince George's County.

Washington County was one of only six jurisdictions where commercial property values rose.

Lewis said a handful of large local transactions in the last few years played a big part.

One of the most significant was the sale of a warehouse on Hunters Green Parkway — to be used as a Home Depot distribution center — for $41.15 million in February. The property's assessed value at the time was $29.19 million.

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