Bobo seeks delay of bill to restrict assessment rises Impact of 5% limit unclear, she says


Howard County Executive Elizabeth Bobo wants the County Council to delay action on a proposal to limit increases in property assessments to 5 percent a year, which would put off debate on the issue until after the general election.

Ms. Bobo said yesterday that the administration needed the delay to determine how revenues would be affected by the measure, proposed by Councilman Charles C. Feaga, R-5th.

"We don't have the basic information to move forward," she said.

Her top aide, County Administrator Buddy Roogow, said the state tax assessor planned to complete the re-assessment of a third of the county, the eastern Columbia and Elkridge area, by the end of November. "We need to see the results of that," he said.

Mr. Feaga's bill would limit increases in assessments -- on which property taxes are based -- to 5 percent a year. The General Assembly adopted a statewide cap of 10 percent this year and gave local jurisdictions authority to set lower limits.

In May, Baltimore County became the first jurisdiction to take advantage of the law, setting a cap of 4 percent.

Mr. Feaga said in a letter to constituents that he introduced the 5 percent cap because it "is more in keeping with the rate of inflation. I was attempting to stabilize the skyrocketing property assessments that many in Howard County have experienced recently."

He said he introduced his bill "in response to many complaints from constituents that their assessments have risen as much as 60 to 80 percent over the last three years." The bill is set for a vote Oct. 1.

A 5 percent cap on assessments would put more pressure on the executive and council in setting the property tax rate, which currently is $2.45 for each $100 of assessed value.

Mr. Feaga, the lone Republican on the council, said the increased assessments had given the administration a way to go through "the back door" to generate additional revenue.

He estimated that a 5 percent cap would cost the county about $2.25 million in tax revenue for the upcoming fiscal year, which could lead to an increase in the property tax rate.

Raymond S. Wacks, the county's budget officer, estimated that the average property assessment increase during the current fiscal year amounted to 8 percent. He said about 500 of the 47,500 homeowners in the county had seen their assessments rise more than 15 percent.

If the 5 percent cap on assessment increases had been put into effect for the current fiscal year, which began July 1, the county would be generating $2 million less in property tax revenue -- the equivalent of 4 cents on the property tax rate, he said.

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