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No Rush to Appeal Md. Assessments

Officials Say Homeowners Acknowledge Hot Real Estate Market

By Miranda S. Spivack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 17, 2005; Page B05

Soaring property values may have produced anxiety for Maryland homeowners worried about paying more in taxes, but they haven't caused a flurry of appeals of property assessments, officials said yesterday.

In many cities and counties, including those where home values had risen the most, appeals have been running at the usual rate of about 1 to 4 percent.

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"A lot of people do realize what the market is. . . . There is no bad real estate. Everything just keeps growing," said Dan Gilbert, the supervisor of assessments in Montgomery County, where property values rose 65 percent on average this year.

The deadline for appeals of assessments was a letter postmarked Monday or an e-mail sent by Monday, and appeals are still being counted.

"We always get a wave in the end, but overall it's been about the same as last year," Gilbert said.

About one-third of each jurisdiction's residential properties -- about 700,000 properties across Maryland -- are reassessed each year. Commercial properties also are revalued, but they are a small part of the total.

In some communities with waterfront property, particularly in Charles and St. Mary's counties, the rate of appeals was higher this year than in recent years, officials said, but still around 3 to 4 percent. Statewide, appeals are averaging 4 percent.

In Prince George's County, where an expansion of Metrorail service to Largo helped boost property values, appeals are flat, said James P. Soresi, the county assessment chief. That may be, in part, because of a 3 percent cap on tax bill increases for owner-occupied homes in Prince George's.

"That [cap] makes a big difference here," Soresi said.

In Calvert, Charles, Frederick and Montgomery counties, property taxes are allowed to rise as much as 10 percent and then are capped. In Howard and St. Mary's counties, the tax bill cannot go up more than 5 percent, and in Anne Arundel property taxes cannot go up more than 2 percent.

Homeowners, however, won't know for a few more months how much their tax bills will be this year.

Local tax rates will be set soon by county councils and commissioners, who are in the throes of working on their new budgets for the fiscal year that begins July 1. They may decide to increase the rate depending on local needs.

Currently, property owners in Montgomery pay property taxes at a lower rate than in many other jurisdictions, including Anne Arundel, Calvert, Charles, Frederick, Howard, Prince George's and St. Mary's. But because homes are often more expensive in Montgomery, property owners there still can expect to see their tax bills rise, unless local lawmakers lower the tax rate.

While Montgomery had one of the highest increases in property values in recent memory, home values also increased across the state, most likely heralding a trend that analysts have said they expect to continue.

In Anne Arundel, home values rose on average nearly 48 percent. In Calvert, the average increase was slightly more than 50 percent; in Charles, it was around 47 percent; and in Frederick, 56 percent. In Howard, the average increase was 48.5 percent, and in St. Mary's it was slightly more than 37 percent.

Notices were sent out in early January based on assessments conducted last year by a statewide team of about 250 assessors who analyzed sales records and looked at homes from the outside.

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