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Homeowners Can Appeal Property Tax Assessments

Tax bills on rise even as rates go down.

Most of the desperate-looking people in the post office on Feb. 14 were those who forgot to send chocolates to their long-distance sweethearts. But some were desperate for property tax relief.

Valentine's Day was the deadline this year for filing a property tax assessment appeal. And after much griping about assessments that rose by 65 percent in the parts of the county — including Potomac — reassessed for 2005, about 4.4 percent of homeowners appealed their assessments, a percentage consistent with recent years. Four percent appealed in 2004 and 4.4 percent contested in 2003. The number of appeals dropped significantly in the late 1990s after running as high as 11 percent in 1991 and 10 percent in 1992.

In the property tax system in Montgomery County, owners pay their tax bill semi-annually and their rate comprises a general county tax charged on the assessed value of their home and property (currently about $0.75 per $100 of assessed value) plus a number of add-ons depending on the municipality or special area in which they reside.

A resident of Rockville might pay a total tax rate that includes the $0.73 county tax, $0.13 state tax, $0.04 for City of Rockville municipal services, $0.12 "fire district tax" and so on for a total tax rate of $1.35 per $100 of assessed value. The county has 48 tax classes with rates ranging between $1.07 and $1.80, with most rates between $1.20 and $1.40.

Prior to fiscal year 2000, county property taxes on real property were calculated based on 40 percent of the full assessed value of the property. The county changed its tax laws that year and adopted the current system where the real property tax is levied on 100 percent of the assessed value. Thus, though the rate appears to have dropped drastically in fiscal year 2001, it remained more or less unchanged, though it has been declining slightly each year.

Personal property, which generally comprises the physical assets of businesses, was always taxed based on 100 percent of assessed value, so those rates remained unchanged.

THE 6,169 APPEALS in Montgomery County are among 30,666 statewide that the State Department of Assessments and taxation will take on in the next two months.

Appellants have the choice of meeting in person with an assessor or having a telephone conference. Either way, the first meeting on an appeal is informal.

“It’s just an information-gathering thing,” said Laura Foussekis, special assistant to the director of the State Department of Assessments and Taxation, in which assessors verify information about the property in question and ask the owners whether there is anything in particular that they should know or anything specific that they might have neglected in making their assessment. The department recognizes that “the property owner knows their property better than anyone else,” Foussekis said.

Following such a meeting, assessors make decisions on appeals in consultation with their supervisors. The assessment is either affirmed or adjusted and the property owner is sent a notice. The department aims to handle all appeals by May, leaving enough time for any adjustment to be reflected in the owner’s July tax bill.

If the SDAT affirms an assessment and the owner is still unhappy, he has 30 days to bring the appeal to the Property Tax Assessment Appeal Board, a three-person board appointed by the governor for each county to hear appeals.

From there, unresolved appeals move to Maryland Tax Court, and, in some cases, into the general judicial system.

“Considering the assessments we sent out, we think the people understand the market’s been strong,” Foussekis said.