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News Maryland Sun Investigates

Lack of information frustrates owners with tax credit errors

 

Michael Plaisted said he wasn’t pleased when he learned a few weeks ago that the annual property tax bill on his Ridgely’s Delight condominium had jumped by hundreds of dollars. But he says he has become increasingly frustrated trying to get the City of Baltimore to tell him why the increase occurred.

“All I want is an answer from the city saying this is the calculation we used and this is why your taxes doubled,” he said Friday. “I haven’t gotten anything from the city.”

By Friday, he said he had made three phone calls and sent one email to the city.

Plaisted is among the 315 city property owners who saw their tax bills rise because of what the city says were errors in how the state calculated a discount for historic renovations. City officials say their tax breaks were too large and, while the city won’t seek back taxes, it has raised bills starting with the fiscal year that began July 1.

Just before those new bills went out in early July, the city mailed postcards to Plaisted and others as a heads-up. City finance officials acknowledge that the cards went out before customer service representatives at the call center had been properly trained.

“We were still briefing the call center on the script to be used,” Deputy Finance Director Henry J. Raymond said Thursday, adding that he knew of few complaints. “We immediately ensured that all the reps were briefed and understand what the script was and the protocol was. My understanding is we received no further complaints.”

The postcard gave a phone number and an email address to contact the city with questions about the calculations. Plaisted had questions.

But he says when he called July 16, a customer service person said someone would have to call him back. No one has, he says. Plaisted says he also sent the city an email but received no response.

On Friday he said he called again. This time a representative told him to call the city’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation, or CHAP, which reviews rehab plans to ensure they qualify for a historic credit. He did so but got voicemail. In any case, CHAP has no role in the calculations.

Plaisted isn’t the only frustrated homeowner. Adam Borden, who lives in Guilford, had an experience similar to Borden. “When I called them, the operator erroneously told me to call the CHAP office which I did,” Borden wrote in an email to The Sun.

“I spoke with someone there who was incredibly helpful, and she told me that the issue was dealt with by the city’s finance department, not hers, as the historic credit had already been issued.”

Borden said he found it “curious” the city would print and mail hundreds of postcards yet “not have the correct established procedures in place to respond to inquiries.”

scalvert@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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