Commercial values rise, home values fall 10 percent in latest Harford property assessments

BRAC seems to be paying off for Harford County with commercial property values, as the county saw the highest rise in those values of any Maryland jurisdiction over the past three years.

Home values, on the other hand, fell by an average of 10 percent in the latest annual property assessments for one-third of the county's residential and commercial property tax accounts.

The areas included in the latest round of property assessments, released Tuesday by the state Department of Assessments and Taxation, are in the Route 40 corridor, including Aberdeen, Joppatowne and part of Havre de Grace.

Commercial sites in Harford had an average increase in value of 9.2 percent since 2008, according to state figures.

The Port Deposit and Perryville areas of Cecil County were also assessed this past year. Those areas had an average drop in home values of 17.2 percent, consistent with the statewide average. Cecil County commercial values also fell by 7.4 percent.

The only other jurisdiction to see a significant increase in commercial property value assessments was Washington County, with a 7 percent rise. Prince George's, Baltimore and Howard counties saw increases of about 3 percent.

"We have such a good news story here in Harford County with the economic development that's been going on and the new businesses that have been opening, the new commercial properties that have been coming on stream," Harford County Treasurer Kathryn Hewitt said Wednesday.

"It was not a shock," Hewitt said about learning the county had the highest increase in the state. "I think it speaks a lot to the strength that Harford County put toward BRAC and even the current businesses in the county. We put a really concerted effort, and I am not sure you had such a concerted effort with Fort Meade… or some of the other [BRAC-affected] places."

Properties in the Route 40 corridor were also the ones most impacted by BRAC, she noted.

"There's been new commercial properties that have been built and developed, and there has been renovation of properties, and a lot of that has been in that corner of the county," Hewitt said.

Commercial sites in that area rose in value by 23.4 percent the last time they were assessed, in 2008, when demand for development sites and the nationwide real estate boom was still in its ascendancy.

Home prices still falling

Harford home values, meanwhile, dropped by an average of 10.2 percent in the areas assessed this year, which is lower than the state average of a 17 percent decrease. Those residences had seen a 5 percent increase during their previous assessment.

Local finance officials did not seem surprised by the drop in home values, as this was the second year values fell in response to the beleaguered housing market.

Opiribo Jack, finance director for the city Aberdeen, said he is not sure exactly how the drop would affect tax revenues in the city, which is also seeing considerable commercial development because of BRAC.

"I don't feel the impact that much… because we have some construction coming on, we will probably be OK," Jack said.

Jack said he was expecting some kind of decrease but did not know how much.

He was surprised to hear commercial values rose by 9 percent countywide.

"Really?" Jack said, adding it was "probably because of new construction."

Hewitt was likewise not surprised by the home value drop.

"That was in line with the early estimates I had heard, so that's not a shocking number for us," the county treasurer said. "This is the first group to be part of the second [turn] for a downturn."

Residents whose skyrocketing property values were protected by the Homestead tax credit in the past will see that drop. Harford caps annual owner-occupied residential assessment increases at 5 percent.

The decrease will also have some impact on the country's revenue.

"In terms of the county, reductions in assessments take effect immediately and are not phased in the way increases are phased in," Hewitt said.

"It should mean lower property taxes coming in this year but I don't have a number on how much lower," she continued. "We are already [projecting] this into our revenue estimates for next year [2013]. As we work in the next few months developing the budget and getting it ready to go to [the County Council], this will be a consideration."

Properties in greater Bel Air, Abingdon and Fallston were last reassessed in 2010, those in Havre de Grace and the northern tier of the county in 2009.

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