Cole says he alerted state to Federal Hill assessment error several years ago

City Councilman William H. Cole IV said Wednesday evening that his office told state assessors several years ago that they had mistakenly valued a large Federal Hill home as if it were a fraction of its true size. And Cole said others in the neighborhood had complained as well, yet the error was not fixed.

"For whatever reason, this house has slipped through the cracks nine different ways to Sunday," Cole said during a hearing at City Hall. Assessment officials could not explain why the tips went unheeded.

The Baltimore Sun reported the state's error this week. Within the past month, assessors said, they revised the home's value significantly upward going back to 2009. Developer Blake Cordish, who owns the East Montgomery Street home, has said he was unaware of the mistake and paid "every penny" of his tax bills.

"We wonder if it's the tip of the iceberg," said Councilman Carl Stokes, who called the informational hearing after fielding complaints from city residents about property valuations. "Montgomery Street may be unusual. We don't know."

But Robert E. Young, director of the state Department of Assessments and Taxation, portrayed the Montgomery Street mistake as an anomaly.

At one point, Stokes noted that a visit to the 200 block of East Montgomery would have revealed the error. In 2009 the government valued Cordish's home — three rowhouses combined into one — at $552,000, or close to what it values nearby two-story homes with less than half the square footage.

"The problem is, honestly, I simply don't have enough eyeballs out there to pick up the stuff we missed or for some reason falls through the cracks," said Owen C. Charles, Young's deputy.

The error occurred when a file was not updated to reflect the unified home's footprint of 4,600 square feet. It had the outdated figure of 2,004 square feet from just one of the homes before consolidation, Charles said.

When Stokes asked whether the agency had sought additional funding from the city to hire more assessors, Charles said "that discussion is ongoing."

The assessment mistake, along with a misapplied tax credit, together gave Cordish more than $13,000 in undeserved tax savings over four years, based on revised assessment figures provided by the state.

Assessors have retroactively raised the value of Cordish's home to $1.07 million as of 2009 — a swing of more than $500,000, or more than 90 percent. Its value for the coming tax year will be $1.04 million. Charles said Cordish would be required to pay additional taxes.

Cordish could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening.

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