Baltimore Co. property owners protest tax assessment errors


Fred Lehman has lived in his home near Maryland Line in scenic northern Baltimore County for about 10 years.

So he was a bit surprised a few weeks ago when his Baltimore County tax bill arrived with a notation that his house on Harris Mill Road was not an owner-occupied dwelling.

The distinction is an important one. A year-old law in Baltimore County puts a ceiling on property tax assessments on owner-occupied dwellings, so that they can only increase by 4 percent in any year. State law places a cap of 10 percent on owner-occupied homes statewide. But the break does not apply to rental properties.

For Mr. Lehman, the cap meant a reduction of $81.50 on his property tax bill of $2,037.

"I don't mind paying my fair share, as long as it is that," Mr. Lehman said. "But I don't think the county should be getting more from people than they're entitled to."

Mr. Lehman was one of about 300 people who noted such a mistake on his tax bill and called Baltimore County's Finance Office to complain. The county sent out 246,000 tax bills this year.

Richard McQuaid, president of the Maryland Line Area Association, a group of about 200 homeowners, said taxpayers in his community began noticing the discrepancies about a week ago.

Mr. McQuaid said many taxpayers most likely just paid their bills or sent them off to their mortgage holder to pay, without checking the homeowner tax cap.

"The office of finance will not do anything about it unless the taxpayer calls, which isn't really fair because it means many taxpayers won't realize any mistake and will overpay," he said.

Kurt Louderback, a supervisor in the office that sent out the bills, said incorrect information supplied by the state Department of Assessments and Taxation was at fault.

Mr. Louderback said his office did its best to notify homeowners of the assessment cap. The office decided to note the property status -- whether a house was owner-occupied or not -- on the tax bill, along with an explanation of the tax cap. That way, anyone entitled to the cap would realize whether their home was incorrectly classified.

Anyone who received a higher tax bill because of the problem should contact his office at 887-4100, he said.

Robert Dowling, head of the state assessments office in Baltimore County, said the inaccurate information was due to a computer problem.

He said that the computer program that classifies properties matches the tax billing address with the property address. If the two do not match, the property is automatically classified a non-owner-occupied dwelling, he said.

He conceded that under the present system, if a homeowner uses a post office box for mail, has rental properties or has a tax bill mailed to a relative's house, the home could be incorrectly classified.

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