"It's unfortunate they have to pay taxes on a refund check from the city — that's an expense incurred through no fault of their own," she said. "But I applaud the city's attempt to make it right for people who bought their houses in good faith without any understanding this was going to happen to them."
Slevin said the city's initial decision to raise about 300 homeowners' property taxes without reimbursement, after revelations of errors surfaced, was "very bad PR" given that Rawlings-Blake wants to attract 10,000 new families to the city over a decade. The city's tax rate is twice as high as in surrounding counties.
"It didn't help for the city and state assessments office to be pointing fingers at each other," Slevin said, adding that it looks "like they don't really know what's happening."
Marie Blackburn, who bought her Federal Hill condo in 2008 because of the historic credit, had mixed feelings about the program announced Monday.
"On one hand, I'm happy they're doing something for us," she said. "On the other hand, I feel the best solution for property owners would have been to honor the documented historic tax credit."
Blackburn is among 36 condo owners in Baltimore who found themselves owing thousands more than anticipated on July's tax bills after the city removed their 10-year historic credits with little, if any, warning.
They are in a different situation from the 315 owners who have valid credits that the city concluded were too high in past years. The city says the three dozen condos should never have been granted discounts. In some cases the units were newly built, according to the city, and in other cases the building had previously received a historic credit and was not entitled to another round.
All told, the 36 erroneous credits have cost the city $2.6 million in potential taxes over eight years, officials calculate, money the city says it cannot legally recoup.
Blackburn has work sheets from the state assessments agency showing that the historic credit on her South Charles Street unit would last through the 2017-2018 tax year. Based on those assurances, she expected her tax bill to hover around $1,100 a year — not the $5,800 listed on last July's bill.
Under the plan outlined by Rawlings-Blake, Blackburn stands to get $4,700 for the current tax year, plus similar amounts for each of the next four years — an amount that could exceed $23,000.
While a lump-sum payment seems beneficial at first blush, Blackburn wants to explore whether there are any negative financial consequences. And she faulted errors and lax oversight by government officials for creating the problems in the first place. "We shouldn't have been faced with these challenges," she said. "They should have had their bookkeeping in order."
Rawlings-Blake has said the city is implementing an automated system to reduce mistakes in calculating tax credits — which officials acknowledged have cost the city $11 million in the past decade. However, officials said they have saved nearly $16 million through internal audits of tax credits.
She said she realizes the tax bills themselves will remain higher than expected under her program. But she said the plan is the best option available to her.
"We're doing the most that we can to the extent of the current law," Rawlings-Blake said. "Our goal is to the make this right for the residents of Baltimore."