Assessment notices go out this week little increase seen How much is it worth?

December 26, 1993|By Ellen James Martin | Ellen James Martin,Staff Writer

The taxman certainly will cometh.

On Tuesday, 635,000 property owners will be mailed assessment notices from the Maryland tax department. And, although the state is bracing for appeals, assessment officials say most homeowners can expect minuscule assessment increases, if any.

"We didn't have a huge public outcry last year and there's no reason to believe that we'll have a materially different response this year," said William W. Saltzman, special assistant to the director of the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation.

For the first time in at least 30 years, the average annual change in valuation for all properties assessed in the state is nearly zero, said Ronald W. Wineholt, the department's deputy director. Last year that figure, which covers both commercial and residential properties, was up 0.7 percent, he said.

There's less of an uproar among homeowners when property values stay level or even fall a bit, as they have in many Maryland neighborhoods in recent years. In fact, 350,000 of the homeowners assessed this year can expect that their valuations, on an annual basis, will stay level or even fall, according to Mr. Wineholt

"We don't make the market, we follow it. And if the market drops in a particular neighborhood, we'll reflect that," he said.

Even so, state officials expect about 5 percent to 10 percent of assessments to be challenged this year -- roughly the same as last year. If you're getting a new assessment this year, you have until Feb. 11 to file an appeal with your local assessment office.

Assessors operate differently than "fee appraisers," who value property for an owner or prospective owner seeking to take out a mortgage. Assessors often evaluate entire communities at once, without even entering a home.

Most assessments take only a "matter of minutes," Mr. Saltzman said. The assessor will park his car and look at the home from the exterior, noticing whether there has been an addition, a new deck or other structural changes. But he insists the process is not as superficial as it sounds.

"We've had these homes on our records for many years, since their construction. And we get copies of building permits," Mr. Saltzman said.

Building permits typically include an estimate of the cost of the work -- whether it's the addition of a pool, a bedroom or a bathroom, or a basement renovation.

But officials of a 4-year-old Baltimore-area organization known as Property Taxpayers United, which assists taxpayers in protesting assessment increases, say errors or misjudgments by state assessors are not at all uncommon.

"What they're doing is mass assessments. They sweep through broad areas, but each property is distinct. It has its own peculiar problems," said Harold Christopher Lloyd, a tax expert with Property Taxpayers United and a farmer in Freeland.

Mr. Lloyd, who has accompanied hundreds of taxpayers to assessment hearings, encourages homeowners to "question and challenge" the work of assessors.

"These people are trained in assessment principles and techniques. But nobody knows your home better than you do," he said. The group is expecting a big turnout at its next meeting, at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 25, at Hereford High School in Northern Baltimore County.

*

Here are pointers on how to appeal an assessment:

* Make sure you file your appeal before the deadline.

If you wish to appeal, sign the form on the back of the assessment notice. Check off whether you wish to submit an appeal in writing, meet personally with an assessor or have a hearing over the phone. Then return the form to your local assessment office by Feb. 11.

"We believe a personal meeting is the best. It gives you a better dTC chance to establish a relationship with the assessor," said David Boyd, president of Property Taxpayers United and a professor of education at Towson State University.

* Request the chance to have your hearing with the actual assessor who did the work sheet on your house.

"How in the world another person can come in there and sit in the assessor's place is beyond me! That's one of the most unfair things they can do to a taxpayer," Mr. Boyd said.

You stand a better chance of getting a reduction in your assessment if you're dealing with an assessor who knows your property -- or at least knows the community, he said.

Although the state assessment department makes no guarantee that your request will be honored, you're always entitled to ask for such an assessor.

* Arm yourself with evidence when you go to the hearing.

For your hearing, you'll need evidence that shows that the market value of your property, as calculated by the assessor, is either in error because of a math problem or is based on a mistaken judgment of its worth.

Your most important piece of evidence will be the work sheet the assessor used to value your home. You can get your own home's work sheet free and those for your neighbors' homes for $2 each.

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