Sixty-five members of the D.C. Federation of Civic Associations gathered in City Council chambers in the District Building last week to learn about the property tax assessment and appeals process.

A brief explanation was provided by Carolyn Smith, director of finance and revenue; Faith McDonald, tax assessor, and Samuel Reynolds, chairman of the D.C. Board of Equalization and Review. Members of the federation -- a group of neighborhood civic assocation representatives -- then asked questions.

Smith told the audience that the District has one of the most progressive tax-assessment programs in the country. One of its features is a deferred-payment program for those with an annual income of $20,000 or less and with property taxes that have increased more than 10 percent in one year. The program enables homeowners to defer additional taxes until the property is sold.

Smith said that since taxes increased an average of 20 percent last year and are expected to increase at the same rate for the next several years, she expects more homeowners to take advantage of the program. Deadline for applying this year is Sept. 15.

Reynolds, chairman of the 15-member equalization and review panel, which was established by an act of Congress in 1974, explained the appeal process. "We try to determine that all property is assessed at 100 percent of its value." Reynolds added that homeowners who disagree with the board's decisions can take their cases to D.C. Superior Court.

Reynolds added, however, that "very few" assessments are increased and that about one-third of those appealed are reduced.

The forms for filing an appeal are available at all public libraries and the appeals office in the District Building. After the form has been filed, hearings take place within 15 days. Reynolds said he has received a record 2,500 appeal applications this year. He added that hearings are conducted in Room 202 of the District Building from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. daily and are open to the public.

Several members of the audience asked about how assessors arrive at their figures. McDonald said assessments are based on real estate sales from the previous year.

"In every neighborhood, there have been substantial sales," she said. "We use the most current data." The assessor also takes into consideration capital improvements and changes in the neighborhood, she added.

"But how can an assessor just drive around the neighborhood to figure out the tax without looking inside the buildings?" asked another member of the audience.

"We try to verify the current market through real estate sales figures," said McDonald. She added. "The location of the property is the biggest determining factor. The house might not be as valuable as others on a street, but the land is."

One Cleveland Park resident was concerned that his assessment did not arrive until the first week of March. He said he felt this did not give him enough time to decide whether to appeal before the April 15 deadline.

Reynolds said that by law, the notice must be mailed by March 1 so that if a homeowner appeals, the board can make its recommendations by June 1. Reynolds also noted that because of a computer error this year, 9,000 District residents received their notices two weeks late, and for these people the deadline for filing an appeal has been extended to May 15.