From H. LeRoy Whiteley, Jr., president of Marylanders for Fair Property Taxation:
IF you have ever read any of our mailings, you have noticed that we describe the property tax assessment and appeals system with words such as biased, cumbersome, inequitable, non-uniform, prejudiced, subjective, and unfair to name a few. To illustrate our position and seek your help in reporting your experiences, good and bad, we’d like to offer a few examples of our own as well as some supplied to us by unhappy appellants and even some well-located whistleblowers. Interestingly, these latter folks who, although protected by law, often inform us anonymously to protect their jobs. Almost in every case, they have usually confirmed information we already knew of from firsthand experience or from other sources we deem reliable. Nonetheless, it is refreshing that these whistleblowers see the same injustices we see and have the moral fortitude to try to expose the wrong even if they cannot reveal who they are or right the wrong. We respect that need of self-protection since we know how their life could be made intolerable if their identity is compromised. Still, we wish more would come forward and have the courage to call (we have no caller ID) or meet with us in private knowing we could work in strict confidence.
Here are some examples of the way we and others have reported being treated during the assessment and appeals process.
1. The waiting room of the Harford County assessment office has a notice posted saying hearings are limited to 15 minutes. This is NOT so. The taxpayer has the legal right to be fully heard to present his/her arguments in full and complete detail. If you are faced with this unlawful restriction ask to reschedule your hearing when you can be granted sufficient time to be fully heard.
2. Exercising your right to record your hearing for learning purposes and preparatory for further hearings, as we advocate and as the Tax Court does by law for legal purposes, is not uniformly administered at the assessor or PTAAB level. Our bill to codify this “right” has passed the Senate and is awaiting House action. Notify the assessor or PTAAB board in writing of your intent to record your hearing and DO IT?? We were denied that right by one PTAAB board that also denied our hearing right because of said action. The Tax Court reversed their decision. Stand up for your rights.
3. A ninety one year old living in a tract development appealed his assessment citing the fact that his neighbor’s adjacent identical home had sold for and was assessed for $100,000 less than his was. His appeal was denied. They could not be bothered with facts??.
4. Two identical, side-by-side houses shown on the front page of the Sun have taxes of $1968.27 and $3038.94. Explain that??
5. An Eastern Shore waterfront property subject to tidal flooding as well from landside farm runoff, has failed onsite disposal testing, (i.e. does not percolate) has Planning and Zoning restrictions forbidding any development of the property, has no on-site water and sewer service, and has on the SDAT property tax worksheet the notation of “treat this parcel as unbuildable”. They do not do that. Instead, for a PTAAB and Tax Court hearing, the assessor blanked out this information before presenting the worksheet in testimony. When challenged about this altered evidence, the Assistant Attorney General representing SDAT denied that evidence was being withheld. An appeal to the Attorney General upheld the Assistant Attorney General position. One scumbag lawyer defending another?? The appellant received no reduction.
6. A rural neighborhood consisting of six residential homes on small acreage lots built in the 60’s was reassessed in 2008 and 2011. For 2008, all six properties saw increases ranging from 39.4% to 46.9%. Five of the six properties received between 15.9% and 18.8% reductions in 2011. The sixth owner received an 8.8% reduction that is under appeal. Is it too logical to assume that properties within a cohesive homogenous area would fluctuate up or down in values at approximately the same rate? The assessor, who happens to be the Assistant County Supervisor, received a 15.8% reduction in 2008 and 16.8% reduction for 2011 on her property in the same county?! When this disparity, inconsistency, and inequality were pointed out during a Tax Court hearing, the Judge ruled, “It is irrelevant”. However, that’s fair, right???
7. An appellant living adjacent to the County’s largest incorporated town has a home zoned residential. All other “homes” in his block have been rezoned and are used as “commercial” (i.e. offices, lawyers, dentists, etc.) The assessor sets the appellant’s property value as though that property is also used as a commercial venture instead of its actual zoning and use as residential. The assessors rationale, “That’s what we THINK your property is worth” Therein lies the problem, their subjectivity??”
8. A condominium owner appellant questioned why all of the like units in his area were not assessed the same. So far, he tells us he has not received a definitive answer. Go figure?
9. One Friday we sought the legal services of a former SDAT Assistant Attorney General Supervisor, now in private practice, for a Tax Court appeal. This lawyer, after reviewing our extensive data with us and other family members, extolled the merits of our case stating she could represent us but wanted to “check a few things” before committing to us. Our materials were returned by mail the next working day, after, we suspect checking us out with SDAT and company, with a one-sentence dismissal stating, “She could not represent us”. When you have a target on your back as we do, it is difficult if not impossible, to get a fair shake. One high official in the appeals process told us before a senator and two delegates as well as some of our organizational supporters that it “might be better for our cause if we were to maintain a lower profile since they were gunning for us”. Our government at work??
IF you have any experiences you would like to share with us regarding good or bad assessment or appeals thereof, please send them to us. Hopefully, we will be able to document enough bad experiences to help convince some of our legislators that this is an out of control agency and situation in need of REFORM??
LOOKING FORWARD TO HEARING FROM YOU.