Passing the buck

January 07, 1991

In their first month of work for the county, three of the newly elected council members encouraged citizens to try to clog up the system by appealing their assessments. Perhaps this is too kind. Councilman Don Mason admitted quite bluntly: "We don't call it an appeal. We call it a protest."

OK, residents are angry. But the call to action by Mason, William Howard and Doug Riley focuses community rage on the wrong target -- or, more accurately, deflects it from where it ought to be focused -- on the council members themselves.

While homeowners' assessments rose an admittedly mind-boggling 34 percent over three years, two things need to be remembered. First, the actual resale value of these properties rose as well. More important, the assessment increase is not alone to blame for escalating tax bills. The other parts of the property tax formula are within the control of the council. These are the tax rate and the cap on taxable assessment increases.

The state is already so mired in appeals that officials have simply stopped scheduling hearings because they say there's no money to conduct them all. Into this conundrum come the three councilmen urging citizens to grind the whole system to a halt. Were assessments solely responsible for the homeowners' dilemma, this might not be an entirely objectionable strategy. But an assessment appeal -- if you get one -- is a complicated process with no guarantees. Moreover, the tactic of the councilmen is depressingly familiar; for years state legislators have been passing the buck to the counties, saying that high tax bills are the fault of local officials who simply were spending too much.

Baltimore County homeowners might make more progress if they recognized that the very people goading them to go to the state with their problems actually have the power to address the tax burden themselves.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.