When eastern Baltimore County residents open their newly designed state property-assessment notices next month, they may be fooled into thinking their property tax bills will be higher than they actually will be.
That's because the new forms include no mention of the county's self-imposed 4 percent limit on assessment increases. Rather, the notices will be based on the larger 10 percent cap on increases the General Assembly enacted for the whole state this year. Unless the residents know about Baltimore County's 4 percent ceiling independently, they'll get no notice of it until their tax bills arrive in July.
Depending on how much a property has gained in value, its tax will be lower on the actual bill that arrives next summer than the state assessment may have indicated in December.
All that, however, may be moot if the controversial ballot question that would limit county property-tax revenue is approved by voters today. The proposed 2 percent cap would negate any assessment increases and force a 15-cent cut in the property-tax rate.
Also, Baltimore County assessment office director Robert Dowling expects smaller average increases in the 93,000 assessment notices being sent to the eastern side of the county -- from Harford Road east -- in December than central county property owners experienced last year. Dowling didn't have specific figures.
Lloyd W. Jones, director of Maryland's Department of Assessments and Taxation since May, said the new, much longer notice will be mailed to nearly 600,000 homes statewide, but will not mention the local assessment ceilings enacted so far by four Maryland counties and two cities because other jurisdictions have until Dec. 31 to set assessment ceilings.
The notice does contain one sentence mentioning the possibility of a lower local assessment cap.
Under authority granted by the state, Baltimore County moved last winter to limit assessment increases to 4 percent, while Worcester and Wicomico counties echoed the state ceiling with local 10 percent caps. Calvert County, which benefits from taxes generated by the huge Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant there, enacted a zero percent ceiling, meaning assessments won't go up at all despite what's on the state notice.
Two cities, Salisbury and Easton, also enacted local 10 percent ceilings, Jones and William W. Saltzman, public information officer, said at a recent news conference in Towson.
Baltimore is discussing a 10 percent cap.
State officials said that when a property is sold the buyer gets hit with the full assessment as a basis for property taxes, not the assessment under a ceiling.
James R. Gibson, Baltimore County's finance director, said the county has no plans for a separate mailing to inform property owners of the local 4 percent assessment cap. He said all county taxpayers received a brochure describing the 4 percent cap with their property tax bills last July, and will receive another with next July's property-tax bills.
County Administrative Officer Frank C. Robey Jr. called the lack of coordination "unfortunate."
In the Baltimore area, 72,000 city taxpayers will get new assessment notices this year, 51,000 in Anne Arundel County, 15,000 in Carroll County and 23,000 each in Howard and Harford.
The new form contains a full, letter-sized page of definitions of tax terms, a second page listing the full and assessed values of properties and a page of instructions on how to appeal an increase. The old form was about a third of a page and contained merely the assessment-increase numbers and a full cash-value figure.