From Roy Whiteley, president of Marylanders For Fair Property Taxation:
Yesterday brought forth what we feel will end up as a very unsatisfactory conclusion to an eight year battle to obtain fair, equal, and uniform assessments for our summer waterfront property located on the confluence of the Sassafras River and the Bay. By way of background, in 2004 we hired a licensed Real Estate Appraiser to help us in Tax Court on the appeal of the property then over-assessed at about $375,000. With a preponderance of good technical data including sales comparables of properties having sewage disposal problems requiring them to use holding tanks plus a stellar appraisal by the professional we hired, now retired Judge George Riggan summarized a ruling with a 65% downward adjustment citing the two noted data and appraisal items with a rebuke of the State’s comparables as being “not comparable”, which is the usual condition. It should be noted our property is described as unique even by the assessors. The two small contiguous lots of 0.86 acres flood frequently from both the landside and bayside, fail to pass percolation testing and therefore will not support on-site or other sewage disposal methods, are serviced by an unpaved, gravel road with slopes in excess of 10%, has shared well and septic systems serving our three family summer homes, and is bordered by steep slopes on a portion of one lot. This was the last time in our yearly appeals that we have received any assessment relief. Following this reduction in assessment value, the assessor was later heard by a small group of people attending a high school ball game lamenting his “defeat” and vowing to “get even”. Unbeknownst to the assessor, one of those in attendance was a relative who reported the incident to us. We in turn reported it to the Attorney General who informed us in writing that the assessor had done nothing wrong! Great government protection of the taxpayer!! At the next January reassessment period the assessor, true to his word, did “get even” He raised our assessment to about $608,000 when the real estate bubble had passed its peak and was beginning its long decline. Each year since, we run the gamut of the three step appeal process without success but gathering more and more horror tales and experiences and an ever increasing target on our back as a result of our appeals and activities opposing SDAT (State Department of Assessments and Taxation) policies and its lobbyist they have hired to fight us taxpayers.
Many of our hearings have been and are still attended by high level supervisors from Baltimore or Hagerstown. This “special” treatment on a few occasions has been helpful even though we are sure the prime purpose was to instruct the rank and file to “give no quarter”. Their presence on at least one occasion helped straighten out a “legal” issue in our favor because the State reps did not understand their own rules. Not surprising, as we have said that was the case for years. One of those high ranking persons told a Senator and two Delegates during one of our legislative planning sessions that “they (SDAT) are out to get Roy Whiteley”. So far they are doing one hell of a good job!!
On another Tax Court case we witnessed while in the waiting room prior to being called into the conference room for our hearing, our assessor, his supervisor, the Baltimore supervisor and the assistant Attorney General representing them, all leaving the Judge’s chambers WITH the Judge to enter the hearing room. We were then invited in. The hearing netted us nothing with the Judge repeatedly cutting us off in testimony and telling us we were “paying for the view”. This from a man who has never seen our property or its view ESPECIALLY with 30 inches of flood waters in the houses. He could only have gotten the “view” opinion from the assessors who use that argument repeatedly in their presentations against us.
We have repeatedly argued that the assessment system is too subjective, unequal, and anything but uniform. This was really brought home yesterday. Our assessor refused to allow certain downward adjustments to our assessments which had previously been allowed for our property as well as our neighbor’s for 40 to 45 years. Her reasoning was that those adjustments coupled with the previously court mandated 65% adjustment would total 100%. She doesn’t understand her own system or simple arithmetic. Total adjustment would calculate to about 90%. She and the three members of the PTAAB Board sided with her, affirming her assessments stating they were “uniformly assessed” prompting the Tax Court Hearing. During the PTAAB hearing when we asked her if she were to shop at a store offering a 50% sale plus 50% would she expect free merchandise. She said yes and the Board backed her up. As is our practice, we recorded the hearing .Yesterday the Judge opined he had difficulty with the math also. VERY REASSURING AND COMFORTING!!
As to the PTAAB affirmation with the property being noted as “uniformly assessed” we tried to argue that point yesterday. As you may know, Tax Court rules limit you to “sales only” arguments. This from an assessment system that is derived by values based on construction costs rather than sales as we propose in our legislative efforts! In our case, we tried to argue that there are only four small lots within about a mile or so of our property. Two are ours; two our neighbor’s whose two lots are really part of their 300-acre surrounding farm. Our two lots suffer the problems noted hereinbefore. The worst lot is assessed at $43.51/sf. Our slightly higher ground and slightly larger lot is assessed at $19.38/sf. The contiguous neighbor’s lots comparable to our total lot size, which do not flood like ours and support on-site sewage disposal, are respectively assessed at $12.63 /sf and $11.15/sf. Unbelievably the better the lot conditions the lower the assessment!! Now that is real uniformity—but we were not allowed to argue that fact because the law mandates “SALES ONLY”. Hence our negative opening statement. How can one dispute or argue equality of adjoining property assessments if they cannot be admitted into court??
We are sure horror tales like these help convince property taxpayers not to appeal their exorbitant assessments often citing the usual reasons of it’s too time consuming, it’s too cumbersome, you can’t beat city hall, I can’t afford to lose the time from work, Tax Court locations are especially inconvenient, time constraints are a problem and parking and travel costs are a deterrent. Hopefully, most of you will evaluate your positions differently, probably recognizing that you are paying more per month in property taxes than you are in mortgage reduction. That in itself is scary and sufficient reason to appeal your assessments to the fullest extent possible every year especially after you accept the fact that you most likely cannot sell your property for its assessed value. Only by more challenges to the system can we convince our legislators that the SDAT is out of touch, out of control, not doing a good job as they testify and taxing us out of our homes, farms, and businesses.
Again this year, for our eighth try, we ask our legislators to introduce bills to study and correct this situation. Our Senator Barry Glassman has promised us his staunch support and together we ask you to do so also as well as contact your legislators and show your support for legislation that can benefit all Maryland property taxpayers. We’ll be keeping you up to date as this session’s proposed legislation efforts progress. Stay tuned. Stay active and supportive.
Thank you!! Roy Whiteley, Founder