Appeals volunteers sought Schaefer wants help on property tax cases


ANNAPOLIS -- Gov. William Donald Schaefer said yesterday that he would like private citizens who serve on property tax appeals boards in Baltimore and Baltimore County to volunteer two hours a day for free to help make up a yearlong backlog of appeals.

vTC "I don't want it to wait," Governor Schaefer told Craig C. Biggs, administrator of the property tax assessment appeals boards. "You can't let it go for a year."

The Board of Public Works, which the governor chairs, approved yesterday a $118,000 grant so that the tax appeal boards can continue their work through June 30.

The appeals cases have been postponed since the boards ran out of money last month.

The huge backlog was caused by a doubling in the number of appeals to the boards, the second step in the appeals process.

The number of appeals being brought to that level increased from 7,500 last year to 13,500 this year.

The three-member appeals boards are staffed by private citizens. Board members earn $20 an hour and work as long as six hours each day the board is in session.

Mr. Biggs said backlogs in Anne Arundel, Montgomery and Prince George's counties will likely be finished before June 30. Unless something is done to help Baltimore and Baltimore County, however, the backlog may last until February of next year, he said.

The governor said part of any plan to address the Baltimore backlog should include two hours' volunteer time from board members. "Couldn't we ask them that in this emergency, 'Could we get eight hours a day with two hours free?' " Mr. Schaefer said.

He said Mr. Biggs should also be prepared to submit to the General Assembly emergency legislation that would allow the creation of temporary appeals boards to help reduce backlogs whenever they arise.

Mr. Biggs admitted after the meeting that the governor's proposal to seek two hours of free work time may not go over well with board members who have not seen a pay increase for eight years.

Manuel M. Nicolaides, a lawyer who chairs the Baltimore County appeals board, said that while he wants to do everything he can to reduce the backlog, he was not sure board members would be willing to work for free.

"I don't mind doing as much as I possibly can but [the governor's] asking us to do the sacrificing," said Mr. Nicolaides, who sets aside his law practice up to four days each week to work on assessment appeals.

Meanwhile, a spokesman said Mr. Schaefer continues to support legislation authorizing a $25 fee on appeals of residential property assessments.

The administration claims the fee is needed so that the boards will not run out of money next year. Commercial property appeals would cost $75 under the proposal.

The proposed fee has been attacked by taxpayer groups as an attempt to deter property owners from filing appeals.

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