One of the smallest items on Gov. William Donald Schaefer's $450 million list of budget cuts is likely to raise one of the loudest howls from the public.
The item is the $38,000 taken from the Property Tax Assessment Appeals Board, which will halt hearings by mid-November.
The roughly 4,300 people who have appealed their assessments will just have to wait until after next July 1 to be heard, barring any new infusion of funds, said Craig Biggs, board administrator.
"That stinks!" was the immediate reaction of John D. O'Neill, a leader in the Baltimore County taxpayer protest movement.
A scarcity of funds had threatened the appeals system last year and again this year. As Biggs pointed out, even with the $38,000, money would have run out by January anyway, just as it did the previous January when an unusually high number of cases required an emergency infusion of $118,000 to get through the fiscal year.
The number of appeals did not decline this year, Biggs said, and totals about 14,000 cases, nearly double the number from 1989.
Biggs said he would need $150,000 now to be able to continue holding hearings in the 24 jurisdictions until June 30, the end of the current fiscal year.
Each county and Baltimore has a three-member board that hears cases for $20 an hour. Property owners who win their appeals get a refund of taxes that have already been paid.
A bill was introduced in the 1991 General Assembly to make the system self-supporting by charging a fee for appeals. But public outrage at the idea of a homeowner paying a $25 fee to protest what the taxpayer already considered an erroneous assessment quickly killed the bill.
O'Neill said tax protesters plan to submit their own list of $800 million worth of state budget cuts.
Their cuts, he said, would reduce the allegedly bloated state bureaucracy without cutting vital services such as welfare or police protection. Schaefer, said O'Neill, made his cuts " . . . where people would holler the most."