Baltimore property tax bills are getting more transparent, even if City Hall isn't

Property tax bills in Baltimore are getting a bit more transparent, even if the same can’t be said of the Rawlings-Blake administration when it comes to detailing those changes.

The homestead tax credit now appears on bills as — wait for it — a “homestead credit,” according to an online check of 2011-12 tax bills. Presumably the change will continue with the new bills that are due to go out soon for the tax year beginning July 1.

For years, the homestead tax break was listed as an “assessment credit,” fueling confusion among homeowners who had no idea what that meant. When The Baltimore Sun discovered hundreds of city homeowners were improperly getting the homestead break on multiple homes, some said they didn’t understand the “assessment credit” line on their bill.

The homestead effectively caps annual tax increases for owner-occupied homes, and four out of five city homeowners currently receive some discount because of it. For many, it cuts both their city and state property taxes, and this year alone it has cost the city $120 million in uncollected tax revenue.

But the same check of online bills shows that other credits remain lumped under “special credit.” That category encompasses a handful of breaks, mainly the historic and new construction credits. While the phrase “special” has also caused confusion for taxpayers, the city has said itemizing those would require “extensive re-programming.”

Anyone with questions about their tax bill can call the city’s Finance Department. The number listed on tax bills for such inquiries is 410-396-3987.

Given all the confusion, which has contributed to some homeowners owing hefty back taxes, The Sun has been asking City Hall for months about changes to the tax bill wording. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s administration has  refused to provide details since April.

On Tuesday The Sun filed a public records request for details about the new wording. So far, the city hasn't responded.

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