Council weighs repeal of tax

Balto. County officials to discuss fairness of and justification for levy on mobile homes


Leaning against an island in his kitchen, Gary Lessner extolled the virtues of his mobile home in eastern Baltimore County. The retired General Motors assemblyman said he likes the home as much for what it lacks - stairs - as for what it has: lots of space.

But he's not keen on the $20 monthly "mobile home tax" he pays to the county.

"To my knowledge, nobody else pays the tax," Lessner said on a recent afternoon at his home on a cul-de-sac in the Biscayne Bay Village mobile home park in Middle River. "Apartment dwellers don't."

The tax, according to a county spokesman, has been around since the 1950s and is designed to address the unique circumstances of owning a home that can be titled with the MVA. But now the County Council is considering a measure that would repeal the tax - or at least encourage government officials to justify it to mobile home residents.

"We're just trying to get some answers, as far as what the tax is and what it's for," said Councilman Joseph Bartenfelder, a Fullerton Democrat who authored the proposal.

He said he's not necessarily against the tax. But he said residents at least deserve a full explanation for it.

"They feel like they're being singled out. If they're not, just tell them what it's for and why they're paying it," he said.

A mobile home tax is imposed in 19 of 23 counties in the state, according to the Maryland Association of Counties. The tax ranges from $15 a year in Caroline County to 20 percent of a mobile home owner's rent in Calvert County.

In Baltimore County, the tax is 7 percent of the land rent that an owner pays to a mobile home park but is capped at $20 a month. Most residents end up paying the maximum $240 a year, county officials say.

Linda Hart, president of the Baltimore County Mobile Home Owners Association, said many residents, including herself, have spent years seeking an explanation for the tax. She said residents had asked to meet with county officials in 2000, but a meeting was never arranged.

Hart said she pays the maximum tax of $240 on her double-wide in the Peppermint Woods mobile home park in Middle River.

"It's almost like a renter's tax," said Hart, 62. "There's a lot of things I could do with that extra $20 a month, especially with electricity about to go up, and gas doesn't know what to do with itself."

Donald I. Mohler, a spokesman for County Executive James T. Smith Jr., pointed out that any promise to meet with residents about the tax in 2000 would have been made by officials from the previous county administration. The current county administration "meets with representatives of different groups all the time," Mohler said. "We're certainly willing to meet with this group."

The tax in Baltimore County is assessed to owners of mobile parks, who pass the fee on to individual tenants.

While most homeowners - or apartment complex owners - pay property taxes on their structures and land, mobile park owners pay property taxes solely on the land, Mohler said. The purpose of the mobile home tax is to account for the residential units, Mohler said.

But unlike taxes on owner-occupied residential properties, property taxes on mobile home parks are not subject to the county's 4 percent cap on assessment increases because the land is zoned as industrial.

The county expects to collect $544,000 in taxes on an estimated 2,750 mobile homes this year, according to Mohler.

Many, if not most, mobile homes these days become permanent structures, mainly because moving them can be more expensive than buying a new one, said Ed Suddath, executive director of the Manufactured Housing Institute of Maryland.

"Manufactured homes are still able to be moved from location to location, but once one of those manufactured homes is put in a community, they're hardly ever moved," Suddath said. "Despite the fact that they're called mobile homes or referred to by some as mobile homes, they're not as mobile as they once were."

Russ Mirabile, a co-owner of the 62-lot Liberty Mobile Home Park in Essex, said he supports repealing the tax.

"The park owners are actually being double-taxed," Mirabile said. "I know our park pays for its own roadways, garbage disposal." He said the park also pays for water and sewerage for the housing units.

But Mohler, the spokesman for Smith, pointed out that the tax covers other county expenses, including schools, police, fire and rescue. "You're talking about roads and gutters, libraries, community centers, all of those things that everybody participates in," Mohler said.

He said county officials hope that if the council repeals the tax, it would include a provision in the legislation to ensure that the relief trickles down to the individual tenants, instead of being pocketed by park owners.

The council is scheduled to discuss Bartenfelder's bill at a work session next month and vote on it the next week.

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