The Schaefer administration is firing back at property-tax protesters by proposing to charge a $25 fee to homeowners who appeal their property tax assessments.
If approved by the General Assembly, the fees would raise about $400,000 next year. This would help the State Property Tax Appeals Boards cope with a tight budget and a deluge of cases, according to Craig C. Biggs, the board administrator.
"We're looking at a funding source to help pay our operating expenses," Biggs said yesterday.
"That would be ridiculous," countered John D. O'Neill, a leader of the Maryland Taxpayers Association, an organization that grew out of last year's uproar over rising assessments. "If they did that, they would have a march on Annapolis. They do the damndest things to the people."
Property owners now can appeal their assessments to an appeals board without cost.
A bill pending in the House Ways and Means Committee would allow the appeals boards to impose the fee. Although no dollar amount is written into the bill, Biggs said he is contemplating a $25 fee for homeowners and $75 for commercial property owners.
Many of the 24 appeals boards -- one in each of the 23 counties and Baltimore -- have been swamped with appeals. Some have run out of money to continue meeting. A proposal to give the panels about $100,000 in supplemental funds is pending before the state Board of Public Works, Biggs said.
The boards' budget this year is about $632,000.
"I'm not really sure if a $25 fee would be an impediment to most people who want to file appeals," Biggs said.
"That will be laughed right out of the legislature by the time we're finished," predicted David E. Boyd, president of Property Taxpayers United, a Baltimore County group. "They're already squeezing the hell out of us on these unfair assessments. Now they're trying to squeeze a fee out of us."
Biggs said some state officials have proposed making the fee refundable to people who prevail in their appeals, although that provision is not included in the bill.