Back in 1990, David Boyd called a meeting for property owners upset about their tax assessments.
He figured maybe 60 people would attend, but more than 1,000 taxpayers, all of them angry, showed up. That's how Property Taxpayers United was born.
After the 1993 batch of assessment notices was mailed, Mr. Boyd, the group's president and a professor of education at Towson State University, called another meeting last month. He says assessment increases were more moderate than in years past, but that didn't keep some 200 people from attending, all to find out the best way to protest their assessment notices.
Appealing, he said, "is so detailed and confusing and intimidating, people throw up their arms and say you can't fight ++ City Hall. We say, 'No, that's exactly what they want you to do.' "
The deadline for filing an intent to protest the assessment passed on Feb. 11. But if you've already filed an appeal, you can attend a free seminar March 23 planned by Mr. Boyd and his partner, Harold Lloyd, to show property owners how to win the appeal. Refusing to be intimidated is a key to success, they say.
Here are a few of Mr. Boyd and Mr. Lloyd's recommendations:
* Ask to meet with the assessor who assessed your property in the first place, to minimize the "run-around factor." One way to find out who assessed the property is to check the initials on your assessment work sheet. You can get a free copy of the work sheet from the county tax office.
* Take as long as you want to state your case to the assessor, who will hear your appeal first. Don't let the assessor convince you that you have a time limit. "They say 15 minutes is average. You can take an hour and 15 minutes if you want," Mr. Boyd said.
* Take another person with you to lend moral support. "It can be an intimidating procedure," Mr. Boyd said. "The assessor isn't going to readily admit he is wrong. They will expound on terms you aren't familiar with, rebutting you." A friend may make you feel more confident.
* Have plenty of evidence at hand. Bring photographs of the house or land where improvements are needed. If you have had a registered repair person try to fix the problem, bring a statement from that person describing their efforts.
Bring assessment work sheets for other homes in the neighborhood. You can request these for $2 each from the county tax office. Check if homes of similar age and style have gone up as much as yours, and if they haven't, ask why not.
Bring information about homes that have sold in your area, and especially those that are for sale, but haven't sold. Some assessors may increase the value of all the houses in the neighborhood if one house sells for an inflated price. But they might not be taking into consideration all the nearby homes for sale that haven't had a looker for months.
* Bring a tape recorder to the meeting. If you aren't satisfied with the decision the assessor gives you at the first appeal, you can go to the second step, the county tax appeals board. For that meeting, you'll have a transcript from the tape which may help you devise a stronger argument against your assessment.
"Fairness in the assessment process is what we are really pushing for," Mr. Boyd said. "In many cases it has been fairer this time, but those 200 people who came to our meeting a few weeks ago don't think it's fair. They are upset."
Property Taxpayers United will meet at 7:30 p.m. March 23 at Hereford Middle School, 712 Corbett Road in Baltimore County.
Mr. Boyd and Mr. Lloyd will discuss the first level of assessment appeal.
The meeting is free. You should have already filed an intent to appeal with your county assessment office.
For more information, call Property Taxpayers United at 410- 343-0666.