From Roy Whiteley, Founder, Marylanders for Fair Property Taxation:
The disastrous 2013 General Assembly session is finally over. Another unsuccessful effort where O’Malley, Busch, Miller and the Democratically controlled General Assembly Committee dictators ignored the failed bureaucracy of the Department of Assessments and Taxation denying aid to over two million property taxpayers by defeating one of the two bills submitted on the property taxpayers’ behalf by our ever supportive Harford County delegation members. The second bill apparently passed in an amended state that rendered it worthless. Our summary follows.
It is most discouraging to attend these hearings without support from our fellow property taxpayers, who obviously do not know or care about how they are being mistreated in the assessment and appeals process. Even worse is how the public is treated at these hearings. The obvious look of disgust, boredom, and total disinterest by the committee members who play on their computers, take cell phone calls, and often casually walk in and out of the hearing, returning with food and drinks which are forbidden for the attending taxpaying public, is most disconcerting. Their disdain for the public and the job they are supposed to be doing for us deserves one response from us — the uninformed voter— VOTE THEM OUT?? Unfortunately, we are too dumb to do so.
Our bills were supported with excellent testimony by folks like NASA Analyst/Engineer Bob Nelson, including media quotes from the SDAT Director who admits in public interviews to many “assessment errors and discrepancies.” The General Assembly Committees chose to ignore millions of property tax dollars being wasted, misappropriated, and misapplied. SDAT felt so confident of defeating these bills that they did not even testify. They crafted the biggest written prevarications imaginable and spent days and dollars fighting the property taxpayer using their taxpayer paid lobbyist, the Director and several henchmen plying the halls and offices of the legislators and attending these hearings. They fight the taxpayers instead of trying to help them.
HB 235 Internet Access to Worksheets – Introduced by Delegate Susan McComas; Cosponsors Afzali, Cluster, Dwyer, Fisher, Frank, George, Glass, Impallaria, Jacobs, Kach, Krebs, McConkey, McDermott, McDonough, Norman, Schulz, Sophocleus, Stocksdale, Szeliga, Vitale and Wood. We thank them for their support.
In 2012, SDAT Director Young testified that a 40-year old law prevented placement of these records on the Internet for privacy reasons; yet he has sold those same records to SpecPrint (SpecPrint.com) a commercial firm that sells all 24 jurisdiction’s residential and commercial worksheet records via the Internet for $115 to $225 per jurisdiction. That really protects taxpayer privacy?? He also testified in the Senate hearing, it would cost $200,000 to develop a searchable database. He testified a short time later in the House version that same task would cost $940,000?? Now in 2013 that cost has risen to $1,132,600 for a task that already is in place. His staff and the taxpayer can access any worksheet in any assessment office simply by entering an address, a map/lot/parcel number or an account number. Conversion of this search engine for public use is a no brainer and obviously not that costly. The same search engine already exists on the Internet for use in the online SDAT Real Property Search. Who do they think they are fooling????
SDAT further writes “Assessment worksheets contain certain notes and adjustments that by statute may not be open for public inspection including commercial assessment worksheets and correspondence containing information concerning private appraisals and building costs.” Several prevarications (we’d prefer a simpler four letter word) exist in this statement. First, we have not argued for release of the commercial property data only residential. BUT more significantly SDAT has already violated this situation by selling ALL of its residential and commercial records to the firm of SPEC PRINT. (Check SpecPrint.com) They, in turn, sell those same records to any buyer for $115 to $225 per State jurisdiction. Can anyone explain to us how taxpayer privacy is being protected if this information is already in the public domain?
On residential worksheets the only information one might consider private is the existence of and state value assigned to not always visible items like air conditioning, auxiliary generators, balconies, baths, cathedral ceilings, decks, dormers, enclosed and open porches, enclosed and open pools, fancy finishes like brick and stone, finished attics and basements, fireplaces, heating systems, patios, saunas, and special roofings, to list but a few. What is really private here???? These are the very items the taxpayer needs to have to judge the comparability of properties. Today, the taxpayer can only obtain these worksheets after filing an assessment appeal and paying a fee for each worksheet. We recently obtained the worksheet for a nearby home almost identical to ours that listed $55,000 worth of such listed amenities present in the comparable but not in ours. This information netted us an equivalent assessment reduction. Without Internet access to the worksheet and its attendant information we had to file an appeal and pay a fee to obtain the revealing worksheet.
Delegate McComas did a magnificent job in shepherding the bill through the committees and both houses of the General Assembly. House passage was 134 – 0 and Senate was 47 – 0. As good as that seems we must say “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.” SDAT apparently agreed not to oppose the bill if certain amendments were made. Basically the bill was amended to delete Internet access to total worksheets but SDAT agreed to allow “the number of bathrooms and the number of garages” and some already existing square footage figures to be made available to the public on the Department’s web site and searchable by individual property. We assume this worthless information will appear on the Real Property Search data base. The SDAT pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes for the information is worthless. As noted above there are 20 or more amenities with associated values listed on worksheets. The only way to get that comparable data still remains for the taxpayer to file an assessment appeal and pay a fee to buy the needed worksheets.
We would urge all who are interested to write their legislators now pointing out the errors of their ways. Perhaps next year they will be smart enough to correct the bill allowing ALL amenities on the worksheets to be Internet accessible.
HB 888 Task Force to Review Property Assessment and Appeals System – Introduced by Delegate Glen Glass; Cosponsors Delegates McComas and McDonough. We thank them for their support.
Delegate Glass introduced this bill urging the Committee to pay particular attention to our 40 page report entitled “The Case for Maryland’s Property Tax Assessment and Appeals Process Reform”. Delegate Glass and Senator Glassman distributed this report, graciously reproduced by Harford County’s Jim Reilly, to the entire Senate, the Ways and Means Committee and House members.
The Committee ignored numerous examples of waste, errors, and millions of dollars of lost assessable base that the report, the media and our supporters confirmed. Chairman Hixson once again played God, judge, and jury where the bill died in her committee.
SDAT’s testimony touts several 2010 and 2011 reports, one of which by the Council On State Taxation (COST) SDAT says supposedly rates Maryland with an “A” for its assessment program. In true prevaricating form SDAT fails to report the data accurately. COST rates four categories — Standardized Procedures (MD. A), Fair Tax Appeal Procedures (MD C+), Residential v. Business Property (MD. B) and Other Issues (MD. 1).The overall reported state rating is A minus although we question how an A, B, and C+ can possibly average to an A minus. These people would not know the truth if they fell over it?? Note the major category and a prime reason for our existence “Fair Tax Appeals Procedures” is only rated with a C+. What additional justification do we need for the task force study???? This rating confirms our major premise. A legislative audit scheduled for 2013 “will have no recommendations for the Real Property Division.” Why not with a C+ rating staring you in the face???? SDAT also cites two, decades old, undated reports from the Mandel era to support their position. We ask where is the public input for any of these reports and the justification for lack of recommendations for an obviously flawed system????
SDAT then argues “Staffing the task force would require the Department to divert personnel from other responsibilities; there are no existing positions to provide the effort that would be required to conduct this review in a proper and thorough manner within 6 months.” They evidently say this with a straight face while the SDAT lobbyist paid with property taxpayer dollars works the halls of the House for the entire 90-day session apparently feeling he secures enough votes to assure blockage of the bills. It amazes us that the Director, the lobbyist and several henchmen can spend days in the legislator’s offices and attending the hearings fighting the taxpayers who pay their salaries and whom they are supposed to serve, but will be unable to supply one warm body to serve on the task force to provide information and support during the short term life of the study. Amazing what their priorities are??
SDAT nitpicks the specified selection criteria for task members as “unworkable” since the members must be from county groupings as well as from certain professional and industry communities. While we would prefer to see this diversity strictly adhered to it would not be upsetting to see some slight deviation to these criteria if needed. The criteria could be amended if need be. On the other hand, it is possible these criteria might easily be met if duplicate qualifications are acceptable. For instance, if we were fortunate enough to be appointed from Harford County to the task force, we could qualify as a Professional Engineer, a Land Surveyor, a Licensed Real Estate Agent and in the building construction industry both from our engineering experience and from the home building industry where we have constructed homes for profit and personal use. We are sure other appointees could have multiple qualifications. SDAT is stretching hard to defeat us.
Unfortunately, we once again got what we deserved — NOTHING?? We say that because we property taxpayers obviously do not care enough about any of these issues since most have done little or nothing to support them. It is hard for us to fathom that the majority of property taxpayers are so well off, or so satisfied to be fleeced by an agency that openly admits it has problems allowing millions of dollars in homestead credits to be falsely obtained, to have millions of dollars in reduced assessments granted to subsidize high rollers, to have millions of dollars of erroronous assessments to exist because their staff is ill equipped to perform the work the law mandates they are to do to make assessments uniform, fair, and equal to fair market value or to correct assessments that an independent firm randomly evaluated and found over one third of them to be over or under assessed by 20 to 50 percent.?? More likely we are just too apathetic to care or to take the time to contact those who supposedly represent us. We must all realize we do not send legislators to Annapolis and ask them to do our bidding without letting them know how we want them to act. It is called INTERACTION and we need to do more of it??
Whether you agree or disagree with any of the positions or actions defined herein we urge you to express those views to your representatives, to us, and especially when you VOTE.
REMEMBER THOSE WHO HELPED AND THOSE WHO IGNORED THE PROPERTY TAXPAYER. IT IS OUR DUTY TO DO SO. LET’S ALL DO IT!!!!
Remember Nothing Happens Unless We Make it Happen??
Roy Whiteley, Founder