About 8,800 homeowners in some of Baltimore's most affluent neighborhoods have had their property assessments reduced an average of 10 percent to reflect the depressed real estate market.
State assessors made the unusual reductions after finding that the 1991 assessments were substantially higher than the values of homes sold in the last months of the year.
The new assessments, to be mailed out tomorrow, will affect many properties in the city's northern and northwestern neighborhoods, including Guilford, Homeland, Roland Park, Cheswolde and Mount Washington. The original assessments were mailed in late December.
Meanwhile, assessment officials say they're getting an unusually large number of appeals from commercial property owners, too. Those owners likewise complain that the recession has lowered the value of their holdings.
Roy R. Sleeman, the city supervisor for the state Department of Assessment and Taxation, says residential assessments were scaled back in the wealthier areas, rather than working-class neighborhoods, because the values of more expensive homes have been hit harder by the recession.
"That's where the real price reductions are apparent," he says.
Mr. Sleeman says Mount Washington and the upper Charles Street corridor were particularly hard hit.
He said the original assessments would have been hard to defend on appeal: "We figured the easiest thing to do was to back off 10 percent and try to defend the lower number."
North Baltimore residents had planned to attack the higher assessments.
"When we got the notices, they were absolutely out of sight," says David B. Rudow, a Roland Park resident who has been active in homeowners' property tax protests. "We complained about it bitterly.
"We realized that all over these communities, everybody was saying that their properties were worth nowhere near the assessments," Mr. Rudow says.
It's unusual for the state to roll back so many assessments at once, although it has been done for smaller communities.
"This is a large number of homeowners," says William W. Saltzman, a state assessment official. "But it really reflects the recessionary times."
The state is not rolling back assessments in any other large areas of the state that were reassessed last year. Each year the department assesses a third of Maryland's properties. Assessment officials say they decided on the reductions after reviewing home sales in Baltimore for the last few months of the year.
"There's a lag in the information from sales," says Joseph L. Szabo, state supervisor of assessments.
Mr. Szabo says most assessments are finished early in the year. Assessments are then compared with home sales from the second half of the year and adjusted as necessary.
This year, however, state officials failed to pick up the large discrepancy between assessments and sales prices before the notices were mailed out to homeowners last December, Mr. Szabo says.
The state reassessed roughly 62,600 residential, owner-occupied properties in Baltimore last year. About 14 percent, 8,803 homes, will receive the lower assessments.
Citywide, last year's assessments were up 11.8 percent, although they were much higher in some of the communities that have now had their assessments reduced.
On average, homeowners in the affected areas will see their full assessment reduced by 10 percent.
But some reductions will be much greater. Many condominiums in the Village of Cross Keys, for example, will be reduced 25
percent. The Carrollton condominium project will be reduced 30 percent.
"I'm sure most people will appeal them anyway, because they still represent very substantial increases," Mr. Rudow says.
The assessment rollback will cost the city roughly $600,000 in lost property tax income, according to state figures.
Assessment officials also say large numbers of commercial property owners have appealed their assessments, reflecting a recession-induced glut of office space that has reduced the value of office buildings.
Mr. Sleeman says about 1,200 commercial assessments in Baltimore were challenged up to yesterday, the last day for appeals to be mailed. He says the state assessed 3,327 commercial properties last year, including almost all of the central business district.
Howard Levenson, who is Mr. Sleeman's counterpart in Howard County, says total appeals appear to be running slightly lower than last year, but a higher proportion are from commercial property owners.
Anne Arundel County won't send out new assessments until December for its biggest office area, the airport corridor. Baltimore County is just now reassessing commercial property in Hunt Valley and Towson, its biggest office districts. Carroll and Harford counties don't have major office centers.