Confusion and inefficiency in the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation have delayed the collection of millions of dollars in corporate income taxes, costing local governments thousands more in lost investment income, officials from seven state jurisdictions charged yesterday.
The state's 23 counties and Baltimore City collect a tax on furniture, equipment and other personal property owned by local corporations, but state tax assessors must "certify" the value of property before the jurisdictions may mail out bills.
During the last three years, the pace of the department's work has "declined dramatically" because of a "confusing and inefficient" system of taxation, said Baltimore County Executive Donald P. Hutchinson in a letter released yesterday.
The letter, written on behalf of officials from Baltimore City and Montgomery, Prince George's, Howard, Anne Arundel, Harford and Baltimore counties, called for a meeting to correct the "serious situation."
Gene L. Burner, the Maryland director of assessments, acknowledged yesterday that the department has had problems, but he said his department has worked to smooth out the system this year.
Corporations are required to file a statement of personal property along with their tax returns by April 15, and Burner said the certifications normally should be completed by the end of the year. But in the past, the job just "hasn't received enough management resources," he said.
Because of conflicting provisions in the law, the department must audit every return instead of conducting random checks, which created an annual backlog of certifications from the previous year, he said. In addition, he said, corporations often asked for a 60-day extension of the filing deadline, which puts his operation behind schedule.
Burner also said he is asking the Maryland General Assembly to streamline the auditing of corporate tax returns and speed up the certification of $3.2 billion in corporate personal property.
Statewide estimates were unavailable, but in Anne Arundel, Montgomery, Prince George's and Baltimore counties, which have fully automated tax systems, the state delayed the collection of $15 million in 1983, according to Howard County Budget Administrator Raymond S. Wacks.
Montgomery's share of that amount, $8 million, cost the county about $500,000 in income that would have been generated by investing those tax receipts, said Daniel E. Lucas, an assistant to the county director of finance.
In contrast, Prince George's County lost about $250,000 in investment income from delays in collecting $3.4 million in taxes while Howard County lost $100,000, according to budget officials.
In fiscal 1982, Hutchison noted, 75 percent of the property in the seven jurisdictions had been certified by January, but less than 50 percent had been certified by January 1984. The rate of decline was greatest in Montgomery County where only 29 percent of the certifications had been processed last January, according to officials.
"Not only did this complicate and make more costly the tax collection system, it meant loss of investment income and an increase in uncollectable taxes," Hutchison wrote.