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Council candidates trade tax charges

Sun colleague Jamie Smith Hopkins reports:

City Councilwoman Belinda Conaway's challenger has blasted her in campaign mailings for receiving a tax break intended for owner-occupiers on a property in Baltimore County while claiming to live in Baltimore.

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Now Conaway is blasting back, accusing Nick Mosby of improperly handling his late mother's estate so her home would appear eligible for the same tax break.

In a statement sent out late Sunday, Conaway – who represents the 7th District in West Baltimore – said she has asked state Comptroller Peter Franchot to investigate.

At issue is a small estate Mosby opened shortly after Eunice Orange's death in May 2010. It specifies that she did not own any property, according to documentation Conaway provided to the comptroller's office. Orange did own a home on Hillenwood Road, and it has received homestead tax credits worth $2,086 in the two tax years since her death. The homestead credit can be collected only by a homeowner on his or her primary residence.

"Nick Mosby is a phony and hypocrite," Conaway said in her statement.

But Mosby said Monday that the estate documentation specified that it was being opened for litigation purposes only and was not intended to deal with any assets. He said he filed that paperwork so he could get his mother's medical records and will later open a formal estate to dispose of her home. He said Conaway's accusation is "just creating smoke" and added that he found it "really appalling and disgusting" that she would bring his mother's death into the campaign.

"It's a non-issue," he said. "No one's hiding any property. … When there is an estate, the home will be included."Robert E. Young, director of the state Department of Assessments and Taxation, said the agency generally removes a homestead tax credit from a property on the July 1 following the owner's death, if staffers are aware that the owner is no longer living. The tax year runs July 1 through June 30. The exception to that rule is if the home goes to an heir who will live in the property, he said. In that case, the heir gets to retain the homestead credit.

Mosby owns a home of his own. He said Monday that it's not clear yet whether he or his sister will inherit their mother's property.

Young said it's the assessment agency's policy to make an inquiry if staffers become aware of a home in limbo after the owner's death. "We'd say, 'Please tell us who's going to reside here,'" he said. "If they say, 'We don't know,' we'd say, 'That's fine, but we'll have to take away the homestead.'"

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