ANNAPOLIS -- The Schaefer administration wants to charge a $25 fee to homeowners who appeal their property assessments to their local Property Tax Assessment Appeal Board, the second stage of the state's appeals process.
An initial appeal by a property owner -- the bulk of appeals made regarding assessments -- could still be made for free.
Craig C. Biggs, administrator of the Maryland Property Tax Assessment Appeal Board, said the fee is needed to raise enough money to pay those who sit on the appeals board hearing what has become an unprecedented number of property assessment appeals. Board members are paid $20 an hour.
One activist in the fight to restrict assessment increases warned yesterday that the fee proposal would arouse such a public outcry "that Craig Biggs will wish he never dreamed this up."
For lack of money, Mr. Biggs ordered his office early last month to stop scheduling assessment appeal hearings for the rest of January in Baltimore City and in Anne Arundel, Montgomery, Prince George's and Baltimore counties.
Today he is expected to appear before the Board of Public Works to request a $118,000 allotment from the board's 1991 contingency fund. That money would allow the stalled hearings to proceed.
For the future, Mr. Biggs' agency has introduced legislation that would give it authority to levy a $25 fee for homeowners who appeal their assessments to their local appeals board, and a $75 fee for appeals from the owners of commercial properties. The fees would raise $400,000, about two-thirds of the agency's $620,000 budget, he said.
"We had to suspend hearings for awhile, so the idea behind the bill was to generate some revenues," Mr. Biggs said. "This was never intended to be a deterrent to people. That's why the [proposed] fee structure was so low."
"It's just a slap in the face to the people," said John D. O'Neill, a member of the executive committee of the Maryland Taxpayers Association. "I can understand the problem that has been created, [but] they created the monster, we didn't. It's unfair."
Delegate Tyras S. Athey, D-Anne Arundel, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, which will consider the legislation, said that he has not discussed it with committee members, but that "my first impression would be that they would not be in favor of this."
Lloyd W. Jones, director of the state's Department of Assessments and Taxation, said about 56,000 appeals were filed last year and another 60,000 are expected this year. About 10 percent of the homeowners who are unsatisfied with the results of the initial appeal tend to appeal to their local appeals board, where Mr. Jones' department and the property owners appear as adversaries.
But Mr. Biggs said the number of appeals that are made to the local boards nearly doubled last year, from about 7,500 to about 13,500. That, he said, is why the boards ran out of money.
But David Boyd, president of Property Taxpayers United in Baltimore County, said angry taxpayers would all but storm the State House to stop the bill authorizing fees.
"Is [Mr. Biggs] that naive to think this will pass? No way will it pass. We will demonstrate. We will write to all of our legislators. We will write to the governor. We will run it through all the organizations that we're connected with," he vowed. "We'll put so much heat on Craig Biggs that Craig Biggs will wish he never dreamed this up."