About 8,800 homeowners in some of Baltimore's most affluent neighborhoods have had their property assessments reduced an average of 10 percent to reflect the depressed real estate market.
State assessors made the unusual reductions after finding that its 1991 assessments were substantially higher than the values of homes sold in the last months of the year.
The new assessments, to be mailed out tomorrow, will affect many properties in the city's northern and northwestern neighborhoods, including Guilford, Homeland, Roland Park, Cheswolde and Mount Washington. The original assessments were mailed in late December.
Meanwhile, assessment officials say they're getting an unusually large number of appeals from commercial property owners, too. They likewise complain that the recession has lowered the value of their holdings.
Roy R. Sleeman, the Baltimore City supervisor for the state Department of Assessment and Taxation, said residential assessments were scaled back in the wealthier areas, rather than working-class neighborhoods, because the values of more expensive homes have been hit harder by the recession.
"That's where the real price reductions are apparent," he said.
Mr. Sleeman said Mount Washington and the upper Charles Street corridor were particularly hard hit.
He said the original assessments would have been hard to defend on appeal: "We figured the easiest thing to do was to back off 10 percent and try to defend the lower number."
North Baltimore residents had planned to attack the higher assessments.
"When we got the notices, they were absolutely out of sight," said David B. Rudow, a Roland Park resident who has been active in homeowners' property tax protests. "We complained about it bitterly.
"We realized that all over these communities, everybody was saying that their properties were worth nowhere near the assessments," Mr. Rudow said.
It's unusual for the state to roll back so many assessments at once, although it has been done for smaller communities.
"This is a large number of homeowners," said William W. $H Saltzman, a state assessments official. "But it really reflects the recessionary times."
The state is not rolling back assessments in any other large areas of the state that were reassessed last year. Each year the department assesses a third of Maryland's properties.
Assessments officials said they decided on the reductions after reviewing home sales in Baltimore for the last few months of the year.
"There's a lag in the information from sales," said Joseph L. Szabo, state supervisor of assessments.
Mr. Szabo said most assessments are finished early in the year. Assessments are then compared with home-sales data from the second half of the year and adjusted as necessary.
This year, however, state officials failed to pick up the large discrepancy between assessments and sales prices before the notices were mailed out to homeowners last December, Mr. Szabo said.
The state reassessed roughly 62,600 residential, owner-occupied properties in Baltimore last year. About 14 percent, 8,803 homes, will receive the lower assessments.
Citywide, last year's assessments were up 11.8 percent, although they were much higher in some of the communities that have now had their assessments reduced.
On average, homeowners in the affected areas will see their full assessment reduced by 10 percent.
But some reductions will be much greater. Many condominums in the Village of Cross Keys, for example, will be reduced 25 percent. The Carrolton condominium project will be reduced 30 percent.
"I'm sure most people will appeal them anyway, because they still represent very substantial increases," Mr. Rudow said.
The assessments rollback will cost the city roughly $600,000 in lost property tax income, according to figures provided by the state.
In a related issue, assessment officials said large numbers of NTC commercial property owners have appealed their assessments, reflecting a recession-induced glut of office space that has reduced the value of office buildings.
Mr. Sleeman said about 1,200 commercial assessments in Baltimore were challenged by yesterday, the last day for appeals to be mailed. The state assessed 3,327 commercial properties last year, he said, including almost all of the central business district.
Howard Levenson, who is Mr. Sleeman's counterpart in Howard County, said total appeals appear to be running slightly lower than last year, but a higher proportion are from commercial property owners.
He said commercial real estate has been hit harder than the residential market, and noted that much of Columbia, which has the bulk of the county's office space, was reassessed in 1991.
Anne Arundel County won't send out new assessments for the airport corridor area, where its biggest office buildings are, until December. Baltimore County is just now reassessing commercial property in Hunt Valley and Towson, its biggest office districts. Carroll and Harford counties don't have major office centers.