State tax appeals panels swamped Assessments board seeks more money


The 24 panels that hear property tax assessments appeals in Maryland are so overwhelmed with appeals from taxpayers that they are virtually out of money and have stopped scheduling cases in the state's five largest jurisdictions.

The state Property Tax Assessment Appeals Board (the umbrella name for the 24 panels) has asked the state budget office for an emergency infusion of $118,000 to keep operating as it plows through a backlog of about 5,800 pending appeals, according to board administrator Craig Biggs. Without the appropriation, the board will run out of money sometime this month, Biggs said.

The board is struggling to cope with a huge unexpected surge in appeals. In 1989, 7,822 appeals reached the board. In 1990, as a property tax revolt swept through much of the state, the board received about 13,500 appeals after budgeting for only 7,500, Biggs said.

"There's just no way we could have predicted when we put our budget together what the ensuing level of appeals would be," Biggs said.

The 23 counties and Baltimore each have a board with three members who meet regularly to hear appeals and are paid $20 an hour. With so many appeals streaming in, the panels have been meeting more often in some counties, Biggs said.

The panels collectively had an appropriation of $526,000 for the year which ends June 30, but with half of the fiscal year left they already have spent down to where they now are out of money to pay members.

"We're going to stop scheduling cases until we have some idea of what kind of money we're going to have," Biggs said. That halt in scheduling will mainly affect five jurisdictions: Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Montgomery and Prince George's counties and Baltimore City.

The backlog has outraged leaders of Baltimore County groups that are fighting for limits on assessments.

"We have a lot of people who are extremely upset," said David E. Boyd, head of Property Taxpayers United. "They didn't hesitate to come through here like Sherman coming through Georgia and taxing the hell out of us. Now, they can't handle us? That's tough. They better damn well handle us."

The current backlog of appeals is on assessments that were sent out in December 1989, more than a year ago. A new round of appeals on assessments sent out last month will begin flowing into the appeals board in about three months, Biggs said.

Biggs said officials in the state Department of Budget and Fiscal Planning have assured him that the emergency money will be found, despite the state's ongoing fiscal problems. He said he expected the Board of Public Works to approve the expenditure Jan. 30. In the meantime, cases will not be scheduled and others may be postponed in some jurisdictions.

Already, taxpayers must wait months in some counties for an appeal hearing.

John D. O'Neill, another property tax opponent, said he has been waiting since last summer to get a hearing date for his appeal on his Ruxton house.

"I paid my tax bill," O'Neill said. "I know it's too high and I'm going to get a refund. But, God knows when."

Biggs said about half of those who appeal to the board win their cases. If the appeal is decided after the tax bill has been paid, the taxpayer receives a refund.

Biggs said the state is considering asking the General Assembly to create temporary additional panels to hear appeals and help reduce the backlog.

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