The movement to eliminate annual residential property tax reassessments in Maryland was advanced today by a ruling from Attorney General Francis B. Burch.
Burch ruled there are no constitutional obstacles to legislation that would allow less frequent reassessment, something that angry hometowners have been demanding for several years.
The practice of annual reassessment has inspired a large number of complaints from homeowners who say that the hurried judgements - often done with a computer and without physical inspection - unfaily boost the value of their homes. Since the state began annual reassessments four years ago, the number of assessment protests filed by property owners has more than double.
Residential property in Maryland was routinely assessed once every three years until 1973, when an Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge said the practice was unconstitutional because it created different assessment homeowners whose property values were set in different years of the three-year cycle.
Since the 1973 ruling, state assesors have assigned new values to homes every year, although they incpsect the property only every three years. In years when properties are not inspected, assessments are set by computer analysis of property sales in the area.
State assessors admit they cannot adequately set the value of one-third of Maryland's residential properties every year with present manpower levels, fueling homeowners' complaints that assessors do a rush job in their physical inspection.
While the frequency of property tax assessments has little effect on the size of tax bills, many homeowners say that a three year period gives them needed time to budget for the drastically increasing tax payments. Many citizens also complain that they recieve a second tax bill before they have had time to appeal the last year's tariff.
Acting Gov. Blair Lee III said at a press conference last week that he will introduce legislation in the next General Asssembly that would restore the old one-year system to allow assessorts to do a more "workmanlike job" and allow homeowners to breathe easily two out of three years.
Delegates Tyras S. Athey (D-Anne Arundel), chairman of the legislature's property tax task force, said his panel is also considering a three-year assessment cycle. According to one proposal, howowners would be able to spread any increase in assessed value in installmetns over the following three years.
Athey said the task force sought an opinion from Burch because of questions raised by the 1973 Anne Arundel County court ruling. "We were concerned with the uniformity of assessments over a three-year period," he said. "We want to make sure (the plan) is constitutional."
Burch did not mention the 1973 ruling in his 12-page opinion, but cited a higher court ruling which concluded that rotating assessments within different years of a set cycle is constitutional and arbitary discrimination."
Assessments relief was a major issue at last year's general assembly with more than 150 bills offered to curb the dramatic increase in property tax bill. But legislative leaders were never ablt to agreee on a plan to cure the problem.
What came out of the session was a temporary measure that put a 15 per cent ceiling on assessment increases for the next two years and the appoinment of Athey's task force to study the problem and come up with more permanent solutions for the coming session.