Arundel's tax cap fever

January 15, 1993

No one, least of all Anne Arundel County tax rebel Robert Schaeffer, should be shocked or upset by a recent study showing that caps on the taxable amount of assessment increases help people in Towson and Severna Park more than homeowners in Dundalk and Harundale.

Assessment caps are doing exactly what they were intended to do: protect homeowners in areas of rapidly increasing value from being taxed out of their houses.

The 1990 Homestead Tax Credit Law, which requires the 23 counties and Baltimore City to limit individual taxable assessment increases to no more than 10 percent annually, was never designed to give all homeowners a break; people living along the water or in other desirable areas -- they have been the victims of rising assessments.

In Anne Arundel County, for instance, assessments for half of its 100,000 homeowners are rising at least 10 percent a year. These homeowners were the force behind the tax revolt that led to passage of the county's Nov. 3 referendum limiting property tax revenues.

Mr. Schaeffer knows this. So it's ironic to find him threatening to take the homestead law to court -- a move that could affect homeowners statewide -- because, he says, it doesn't help the "little guy."

Why is Mr. Schaeffer doing this when a year ago he blasted Anne Arundel Executive Robert R. Neall for not lowering assessment limits?

It all goes back to the tax cap referendum, which he spearheaded.

Instead of cutting the tax rate by 9 cents to meet the cap, Mr. Neall is slicing the rate by only 5 cents and reducing assessment limits from 10 percent to 4 percent. That way, no one's tax bill, including those whose assessments are rising fastest, will rise beyond the rate of inflation.

Mr. Schaeffer says homeowners with flat assessments would be better off with a straight cut in the tax rate. Still, it's hard to see why he's making a fuss, unless he just wants to have the last word. The 50,000 homeowners who stand to benefit most from Mr. Neall's plan are the ones who have been crying loudest for tax relief. Some are wealthy waterfront owners, but not all are.

No artificial tax constraint can be applied absolutely equitably. But the homestead law has worked to give relief where assessments have risen inordinately.

If Mr. Neall can make the tax cap work for more homeowners, why complain?

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