From Roy Whiteley, Founder, Marylanders for Fair Property Taxation:
Senate and Delegate Members of the Maryland General Assembly
RE: HB 235 Internet Access to Worksheets
During the last Assembly session, you collectively passed and the Governor signed, HB 235, Internet Access to Worksheets, 47 and 134 to 0. One might think this would be a good thing. Delegate Susan McComas did a magnificent job of shepherding the bill through both houses but unfortunately lost control when SDAT (Dept. of Assessments and Taxation) was able to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes by successfully forcing an amendment “to show the number of bathrooms and the number of garages” presumably on a SDAT site accessible to the taxpayer. Unfortunately, the intent of the bill was gutted and said offered information is virtually worthless.
The bill’s intent was to allow taxpayers to access any property worksheet, without having to first file an assessment appeal, to compare the improvements data and associated assessed values thereon to their own property so said taxpayer could determine whether their property improvements and values are equitably and uniformly assessed. If the comparable property’s improvements and assessed values match the taxpayer’s then equality and uniformity would indicate the taxpayer has no grounds for appeal. This would eliminate the taxpayer filing an appeal and SDAT processing, scheduling, and conducting an appeal hearing. Offering to show two minor improvement/value items on an accessible SDAT site that we see no sign of being implemented yet, does not serve either the taxpayer or SDAT for the taxpayer still must file an appeal before paying a fee to obtain a comparable property worksheet that might be simmarily improved. SDAT worksheets contain improvements and associated amenities such as air conditioning, auxiliary generators, balconies, baths, boathouses, cathedral ceilings, decks, dormers, enclosed/open porches and pools, finishes such as brick or stone, finished attics /basements, fireplaces, heating systems, patios, piers, and saunas to list a few. Practically every property contains more than bathrooms or garages so that the folly of SDAT only providing access to those two items is obvious. The taxpayer nearly always will need more information and thus will be required to file the required appeal. Nothing was solved with this bill so we must amend it next year to allow taxpayers full access to all worksheets for comparison without the necessity and burden on either the taxpayer or SDAT of filing assessment appeals.
SDAT opposes this bill every year on the grounds of “protecting taxpayer’s privacy” if these worksheets are made Internet accessible. Unbelievably, SDAT has already sold all of the taxpayer’s worksheet records to a private firm, (SpecPrint) who then sells these same records to anyone willing to pay $115 to $225 per jurisdiction for each of the records for all 24 of Maryland’s jurisdictions. CAN ANYONE LOGICALLY EXPLAIN HOW THIS SALE OF RECORDS PROTECTS TAXPAYER WORKSHEET DATA PRIVACY? What privacy are we protecting in any case, since the SDAT improvement list only contains a list of improvements and the SDAT value that can legitimately be obtained by any taxpayer that files an appeal and pays the appropriate fee?
We look forward to passage of appropriate corrective action next session that will allow taxpayers full Internet access to all residential property worksheets for comparative purposes.
Thank You. Roy Whiteley, Founder