Spurred by tax protest movements across Maryland, so many property owners appealed their tax assessments last year that state officials have stopped scheduling appeal hearings and say they need more money to conduct them all.
Craig Biggs, administrator of the Maryland Property Tax Assessment Appeals Board, said the dramatic increase in appeals filed in 1990 has forced his office to stop scheduling assessment appeal hearings for the rest of January in Baltimore and in Anne Arundel, Montgomery, Prince George's and Baltimore counties.
He said he directed the appeals boards in each of those jurisdictions to stop sending notices with appeal hearing dates because his office will run out of money to pay for them by the end of the month.
He said hearings will have to be postponed indefinitely unless the state Board of Public Works approves an additional $118,000 at its Jan. 30 meeting.
Mr. Biggs said a major reason for the problem is the increasing number of appeals filed by taxpayers caught up in a growing tax rebellion across Maryland. The number of hearings shot up from 7,822 in 1989 to 13,500 last year, he said.
The state pays $20 an hour to each person appointed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer to the three-member panels set up in each jurisdiction to hear tax assessment appeals, Mr. Biggs said.
"I'd say the tax protests certainly have something to do with it, particularly in Baltimore County," he said.
The tax protest movement in Baltimore County, which seemed to reach a plateau in the weeks before the Nov. 6 election, shows no signs of abating.
A meeting organized by Baltimore County Councilman Donald Mason, D-7th, as a briefing on the assessment process attracted an estimated 1,200 people Wednesday night to Dundalk High School.
Some 93,000 property owners in the eastern part of the county, which includes Dundalk, received tax assessment notices last month, said Robert L. Dowling, supervisor of assessments for Baltimore County.
Mr. Mason, a longtime tax protester who was elected to the council in November, acknowledged that as a council member he will be held accountable for county spending policies. But he continues to encourage people to appeal their assessments.
"I still say it's important that the message be sent out that somethingis wrong with the system," Mr. Mason said.
Mr. Mason, who heads Taxpayers for Government Efficiency, said that as in past years, he plans a series of seminars beginning Jan. 12 at Dundalk Community College to teach property owners about the state assessment system and the appeals process.
David Boyd, a Towson State University professor who is president of Property Taxpayers United, said his group will meet Jan. 22 to discuss government spending with Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden, Councilman C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, D-3rd, and state Sen. Janice Piccinini, D-10th.
Mr. Boyd also encourages those attending his session to appeal their assessments.
L "We don't call it an appeal; we call it a protest," he said.
John O'Neill, who is active in Taxpayers for Responsible Government, another Baltimore County taxpayers group, said he plans to meet today with volunteers from eight to 10 other counties to organize a lobbying effort to prevent the recommendations of the Linowes commission from being enacted into law in the 1991 General Assembly.
"It's $900 million in new taxes that we don't need," said Mr. O'Neill, a retired Ruxton businessman. "It's too damn much money being taken from us."
Assessment appeals hearings are the second step in a three-step process for those who disagree with increases in their property tax assessments, Mr. Biggs said.
Property owners first appeal to the assessor who completed the assessment. They then have 30 days to appeal to the Property Tax Assessment Appeals Board. To contest the decision of the appeals board, they may appeal to the Maryland Tax Court and ultimately to the circuit court, he said.