Tax Panel Overloaded By Appeals

February 10, 1991|By Elise Armacost | Elise Armacost,Staff writer

Too many appeals and not enough money -- that problem faces Anne Arundel's property tax assessment appeals panel this year and next.

Already broke because of an unexpected surge statewide in the number of appeals, "We will run out of money (again) sometime around October or November," said Craig Biggs, administrator of the state Property Tax Assessment Appeals Board, the umbrella name for the 24 panels thathear assessment appeals in every Maryland county and Baltimore City.

Reflecting a statewide anti-tax movement, some 8,300 Anne Arundel homeowners appealed assessments sent out in December, more than double the number that appealed last year.

Under normal circumstances,only 20 percent to 25 percent of all cases end up before the appealsboard, a three-member panel appointed by the governor, Biggs said. Most cases are settled at the first level of the appeals process, an informal hearing before the local state assessment supervisor.

But this year, with property tax protests still raging in Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Montgomery counties, state appeals boards are expecting a larger caseload. "I have the feeling people are going to pursue thewhole process," said George Mills, a member of Anne Arundel's appeals board.

The Anne Arundel Taxpayers Association, a tax protest group led by Severna Park Republican Robert Schaeffer, has been encouraging homeowners to clog the system with appeals and then, if necessary, take their cases all the way to the Maryland Tax Court, the third and last step of the appeals process. It will continue doing that, Schaeffer said.

"Come fall, before the next assessment cycle, we will hold seminars on how to appeal," said Schaeffer. "I anticipate large crowds."

If the appeals board suffers financial shortfalls, Schaeffer said, "that's their problem. If they created a system that didn't have so many problems, they wouldn't have so many appeals."

A $622,000 budget has been proposed for the appeals board in fiscal 1992-- $10,000 less than this year's budget, which was used up in January, six months before the end of the fiscal year.

"We're very concerned about next year," Biggs said. "We're looking at another unusually high year."

This year's shortfall occurred as tax protests caught the board off guard. Unprepared for the increase, it ran out of money to pay panel members, who earn $20 an hour. Some 13,500 cases reached the board statewide in 1990, compared to 7,822 the previous year.

After running out of money last month, the board suspended hearings in Baltimore City and Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Prince George's and Montgomery counties, the five jurisdictions that still have a backlog of 5,800 appeals from 1989 assessments. Anne Arundel has about 90appeals from 1989 pending, most of them involving commercial properties, said Kenneth Tschantre, Arundel's supervisor of assessments.

The board has asked the state budget office for $118,000 in emergencymoney so it can resume hearings. The state Board of Public Works is expected to approve the money next week, Biggs said, and appeals hearings are scheduled to resume Feb. 15.

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