Angered by higher tax bills at a time when Washington-area real estate prices are declining, twice as many local homeowners as last year have appealed their property assessments.

In a behind-the-scenes tax revolt being waged house by house, property owners in the District and its Virginia and Maryland suburbs filed more than 30,000 appeals this year, compared with 15,563 a year ago.

"People are more knowledgeable about the real estate market and the assessment appeal process," said Cindy Smith Page, deputy director of the real estate assessment office in Alexandria, where appeals are up 63 percent. "They have decided to exercise their rights. They think that assessments should reflect current real estate market activity."

Appeals more than quadrupled in Montgomery County, from 2,517 last year to 11,282 this year. Swamped Montgomery tax officials say their offices have become an "assembly line" for complaints.

"This is very abnormal," said George Andrews, assistant superviser in the county assessment office. "We didn't quite anticipate this."

In Loudoun and Prince William counties, the number of appeals doubled. Appeals were up by one-third in the District and Fairfax County. Only in Arlington County was there a slight decrease, but the deadline for appeals there has not passed and Arlington officials expect their final total to exceed last year's.

Many of the upset taxpayers are people like Thomas Lyons, a 49-year-old bartender who lives in Alexandria.

In 1982, Lyons purchased a two-story house at 119 East Raymond Ave. for about $90,000. Last spring, he received a notice from the city telling him that the property now was valued at $134,500. Lyons, who is not planning to sell his house in the near future, was upset.

"My assessment had been going up and up and up," Lyons said. "I got a little ticked off . . . . In a three-block area around my house, nine of 11 houses sold for $20,000 less than what my house was assessed for. If I wanted to move from this area, I know I couldn't get $134,000. I doubt I could get $125,000."

Lyons appealed his assessment, and it was reduced by $9,400. "At least I beat them out of almost 10 grand," he said with satisfaction.

Harriette Clark, of Wolfe Street in Old Town Alexandria, appealed when the assessed value of her house jumped from $275,000 to $314,000 in one year.

"It's an investment and it's nice when it goes up, but the change has to be realistic," said Clark, 40, a graphics specialist at Bolling Air Force Base. "If I had to sell my house, I couldn't get that. I am a single working woman. A lot of us are just people with bills."

Clark succeeded in getting the assessment on her 64-year-old, three-story row house returned to $275,000.

In Northern Virginia, Maryland and the District, residents who don't succeed in their initial assessment appeals to local governments can appeal to review boards. If they still are dissatisfied with the outcome, they can sue in circuit court.

Often, homeowners are able to get a reduction in their property assessments through a simple inquiry to local officials. Others get frustrated with a long appeal process and give up. But this year, an increasing number of residents are willing to fight the battle beyond the first skirmish.

In Alexandria, where the average assessment of a single-family home was up 13 percent, the number of appeals to the city tax assessment office grew by 60 percent, from 810 last year to 1,300 this year. But appeals to the Board of Equalization are up even more sharply. Last year the review board heard 390 appeals. This year the number of requests for appeals stands at 756.

In Fairfax, appeals to the equalization board went from 482 to 1,371, assessment officials said.

Officials throughout the region offered similar explanations for the increases.

Residents weary of paying increasingly higher taxes during years of rapid real estate appreciation now want their assessments to reflect what they believe are stagnating home prices, officials said.

A recent report by Rufus S. Lusk & Son Inc., a Silver Spring real estate information company, showed that after a decade of rising steadily, the median price of single-family homes in the area dropped 5 percent between April 1989 and 1990.

Some residents were confused and angry when they got notices that showed the assessed value of their property actually was increasing instead. Assessment increases in the past year range from a high of 23 percent in Montgomery County to 3 percent in Anne Arundel County.

Assessment officials point out that while home prices may be down today, assessed values reflect trends in the real estate market over the entire previous year or longer. And taxpayers don't always remember that, they say.

"When you get that {assessment} notice, all you remember is recent talk of a flat market," said Lurty Housf Jr., assistant manager of Prince William's assessment office.

Spokesmen for area anti-tax organizations agree that homeowners are paying close attention to the current downturn in the real estate market, but they also contend that the increasing number of appeals are coming from people who are just fed up about the amount of taxes they pay.

"People want to vent anger at somebody," said Robert Denny, chairman of the Montgomery County Fairness in Taxation organization.

Ann E.W. Stone, chairwoman of Alexandrians for Responsible Taxation and Spending, said taxpayers are upset about the "cumulative effect" that assessment increases have had on their pocketbooks.

In addition, uncertainty about the economy and the potential for a recession "makes people less willing to roll over" and accept the higher assessments, Stone said.

When people start looking for ways to cut expenses, taxes are likely candidates, said Kenneth Tschantre, supervisor of assessments in Anne Arundel County.

"Nobody likes to pay taxes," he said.

Jurisdiction.....In 1989....In 1990.....% Increase



Prince William.....525........1,045....... 99

Anne Arundel.....2,480........4,051....... 63

Alexandria.........810........1,300....... 60

District.........2,883........3,967....... 37

Fairfax County...1,448........1,918....... 32

Howard.............944........1,217....... 28

Prince George's..3,092........3,747....... 21

Arlington..........650..........620....... -4

NOTE: These figures represent appeals to local assessment offices, except for the District of Columbia, where they represent appeals filed with a review board. The numbers do include commercial properties but most involve single-family dwellings.

SOURCE: Local assessment offices and the Maryland Office of Assessments and Taxation.