By Lorrie Warfield
Special to The Dagger
A new county tax database makes public a wide new array of information but could conflict with state confidentiality guidelines.
Recently, the Harford County government unveiled its online Inquiry Service, which allows users to search properties by property tax ID, street address, water and sewer account number or bay restoration fund account number.
The new database, available at www.harfordcountymd.gov/payments, is an updated version of the county government’s existing database, which allowed users to search by street address or other account identifiers. Each address in the system included assessed value and sale history.
The new system has that same information, but also shows the amount of the tax bills including a detailed breakdown, whether or not those bills have been paid and any credits the property owner receives.
According to the county Treasury Department’s Bureau of Revenue Collections, the new system “was created at the request of the citizens and to reduce temporary staffing required to answer calls during busy months.”
But certain types of tax credits are based upon income and the level of tax relief, detailed in the county database, may allow intrepid users to work out some households’ income.
The state of Maryland offers the Homeowners Tax Credit Program to help lower income residents. To receive the credit, a homeowner must submit an application and include their tax information. With that information, the state Department of Assessments and Taxation uses a matrix to allow a certain amount of tax “relief” to the homeowner. The amount depends almost entirely on the previous tax year returns.
An intrepid searcher might be able to use the detailed breakdown of the property taxes and the available state matrix to determine a family’s household income.
The confidentiality statement on the Department of Assessments and Taxation’s Web site states that for the Homeowners Tax Credit Program, “all income-related information supplied by the homeowner on the application form is held with the strictest confidentiality. It is unlawful for any officer or employee of the State or any political subdivision to divulge any particulars set forth in the application or any tax return filed, except in accordance with judicial or legislative order”.
However, a spokeswoman for county Treasurer John Scotten said in an e-mail to The Dagger that the new database is built on information already publicly available.
“The County analyzed existing operations as it pertains to the information previously available in a different format, (i.e. telephone, personal inquiry, lien sheet for the property) and determined that the information was publicly available under the Maryland Public Information Act, MPIA,” Revenue Collections Division spokeswoman Rachel Holmes said in an e-mail.