DENTON -- "Caroline County came in first, unfortunately," sighed Margaret Myers, president of the three-member County Commission during yesterday's meeting.
The "first" -- Caroline County's property assessments increased more than any other in the state last year -- has angered a lot of property owners and stirred up a small furor in this rural mid-Shore county, known for its rich soil and productive vegetable farms.
Citizen complaints and letters of appeal led the County Commission yesterday to invite the local assessor and the director of the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation to a future meeting and explain how assessments are made.
But some citizens had their own theories.
"They got some Ouija board, a big Ouija board, to set values," said one, Harry Wright.
He owns several properties in the southern third of the county -- the section that was reassessed for 1996. All county properties are assessed every three years.
"Something's wrong here," he said. "I've tried to determine how they come up with values."
Wright is one of hundreds of property owners in Caroline County who are unhappy with the new assessments. Although the yearly rate doesn't seem outlandish -- Caroline's average property assessment rose by an annual rate of 6.1 percent, at the top of a county-by-county list that ranged from 0.2 percent in Worcester to 3.5 percent in second-highest Allegany -- some individual tax bills, including his, rose by 30 percent or more, Wright said.
"The citizens are just outraged," agreed William Morrison, head of the Caroline County Taxpayers Association. "Some of the increases are over 100 percent."
About 500 appeals out of about 4,200 assessments had been received by yesterday, said the county's supervisor of assessments, Dana Jarrell.
Jarrell said several factors have increased Caroline taxes, including conservative assessments made three years ago in an uncertain real estate market that has since picked up a bit.
"It's kind of hard to put your finger on what caused the change, but I think the prices three years ago might have been too conservative," she said. Another factor, according to Jarrell, is property improvements.
Jarrell and Ronald W. Wineholt, director of the state Department of Assessments and Taxation, agreed that the 1993 assessments for the southern part of Caroline County had been conservative three years ago.
"Our values are market-based," Jarrell said.
To cope with the increase in appeals, Jarrell said her office plans to add extra evening and weekend hours to meet with taxpayers.
Pub Date: 2/12/97