Less-frequent reassessments recommended

Extending 3-year interval to 5 would improve home evaluations, panel says

November 14, 2003|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

A state government-efficiency panel is examining a change in the way Marylanders' property tax bills are calculated, a proposal that critics say would result in more infrequent but more eye-popping reassessments for homeowners and a shortage of funds for local governments.

A draft report by the Commission on the Structure and Efficiency of State Government, headed by former Gov. Marvin Mandel, says the state should "review the feasibility" of altering Maryland's assessment cycle so that the value of homes and other real estate would be recalculated every five years. The current schedule used by the State Department of Assessment and Taxation is once every three years.

For homeowners, the change would mean the value of an appreciating home - and, therefore, the property taxes due on it - would rise less frequently. But when the assessment was increased, it would probably be by a greater amount.

"Think about their reaction when they get it every five years," David Bliden, executive director of the Maryland Association of Counties, said during a public hearing yesterday on that and other ideas contained in the Mandel commission's report.

The state assessment department has asked for the change, officials said, so that every home in the state could receive a thorough evaluation.

"We're short on staff," said deputy director Wayne Skinner. "We're not doing the best job we should be doing."

Such a change also would reduce the amount of tax money counties receive, Bliden said. Local governments rely heavily on property taxes to fund services, he said, and a five-year cycle would mean that tax value of many homes wouldn't reflect current market conditions.

Mandel said the concerns raised by Bliden and others would be evaluated as the panel prepares its final report, with a vote scheduled for Dec. 2. The commission was formed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in August to evaluate ways to streamline Maryland government by consolidating smaller, independent agencies that Mandel says have mushroomed in number and power in the decades since he was governor.

The most significant recommendations of the panel - creating the position of Chesapeake Bay coordinator within the governor's office to oversee restoration efforts and the merging of state law enforcement branches - received virtually no attention from the 30 speakers at the hearing.

A proposal to move the state Department of Aging into a proposed Cabinet-level Governor's Office for Individuals with Disabilities and Special Needs was the subject of complaints by advocates who said senior citizens would suffer.

Representatives of the Maryland Independent College and University Association protested a recommendation to reduce or eliminate the $31 million in taxpayer dollars spent in 18 private schools. Panel members said the state can't afford that in times of fiscal stress.

Association president Tina M. Bjarekull called the money a wise investment, noting that the state's private institutions grant 50 percent of master's degrees and 40 percent of doctorates. "One of the ways to gain efficiency ... is to do a public-private partnership," she said.

The grant system was established when Mandel was governor, and he said yesterday he'd like to preserve the funding.

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