Harry and Catherine Clemons admitted they were nervous -- "It was our first time," Catherine said -- but afterward they smiled like school kids.
The Clemonses laughed at themselves, somewhat proudly, as they stood outside White Marsh library yesterday, reviewing their first encounter with a property assessor.
They are among thousands in Baltimore County and the state who appealed their 1990 property tax assessments and who this week are taking their first crack at getting that assessment lowered.
This week and next in Rosedale, White Marsh and Dundalk, assessors are meeting with property owners unhappy with their assessments.
It's the first stage of the appeals process, a chance for the homeowner to point out mistakes and question the accuracy of the assessor's work, on which the homeowner's upcoming property tax bill will be based.
The complex, typically low-key process of assessing a home for tax purposes received a storm of attention last year when residents in several Maryland counties complained en masse about their assessments and vented their anger by helping defeat several political incumbents.
Outside the meeting room of the White Marsh library yesterday, homeowners sat in chairs, as if at the doctor's office, awaiting their turn. Inside, homeowners brought all sorts of evidence to prove their case.
Five assessors saw more than 30 taxpayers throughout the day.
One man spread out an array of color photographs, while a Glenarm couple brought a thick stack of news articles describing the dangers of radiation generated from high-tension power lines. The couple, who said electric power lines run within 100 feet of their house, believe that should lower their assessment.
The Clemonses brought paperwork to show that part of their front yard -- a 10-foot-by-75-foot strip they were forced to sell to the county for the widening of Joppa Road -- no longer belongs to them.
"But it's still listed on our worksheet," Catherine Clemons told assessor Charlotte Rogers. "They got our ground and we're still paying taxes on it."
Rogers listened but pointed out that although the Clemons had signed over the property, the new deed hadn't been recorded in county land records. Until then, the land is their responsibility for tax purposes, she said. But Rogers did say she would change their record when the deed is recorded.
Harry Clemons, 71, a retired electrician, also noted that Rogers mistakenly had them down for a 20-by-24-foot garage. "It should be 20 by 22 feet," he said.
"We didn't know that until we got the worksheet," his wife said.
They also complained that the value of the garage, which Rogers had placed at $6,000, was too high.
"The door's in very bad shape," Harry Clemons said.
Rogers jotted that down, then asked other questions on the condition of the garage and features of the Clemonses' home.
Still got a fireplace? Central air conditioning? "It's a 1 1/2 -story house, right?"
"Yes," said Harry Clemons. "But the half-story is just an unfinished attic we don't use."
"Can you see the rafters?"
Rogers wrote that down.
She said she would think about what they had told her and decide whether to lower their assessment within two months.
"If I decide to lower it, then I have to get my supervisor's approval," she said. "If they approve, then it'll be lowered. If you're happy with my decision, that's all you need to do. If you're not happy, you can appeal my decision to the property taxpayers appeal board."
Asked afterward whether they thought Rogers would indeed lower their assessment, Harry Clemons said: "Well, if she doesn't, we'll keep after them. I don't mind paying my taxes, but I don't want to pay for something I don't have."