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Jason Miller County Council at Large


January 5, 2004

The Rising Tide of Home Assessments

Alan Imhoff

Frederick County continues its march toward becoming one of the area's more exclusive places to own a home. Information provided by the State Department of Assessments and Taxation places the most recent round of county assessments up by 11.2 percent.

One third of the taxable property here in Frederick County will receive this gift of increased value without having to do anything to their property other than staying put. What this means is that a $200,000 home last year will increase in assessed value to $222,400. Not bad for just sitting there.

It also means that, if the house is located outside a municipality, the property taxes paid on the house will only increase $224 a year, just a measly $18.67 a month more on top of the $166.67 they were already paying.

If the house is located within the boundaries of a municipality it will mean a few more dollars a month. For the City of Frederick it would be $11.95 a month more.

Oh, almost forgot! There is this thing called the Fire/Rescue Tax it just adds another piddling $2.46 a month.

Finally, since the State of Maryland is the one doing the assessing, it exacts its share as well, another mere $2.46 a month.

So, letís see, $18.67 for the county, $11.95 for the City of Frederick, $2.46 to be saved (from fire and accidents that is) and another $2.46 for the state. This brings us to a total of only $35.54 a month (or just $426.48 a year) for having the house sit there and do nothing.

Granted these increases are "phased in" over the three years of the assessment, but, with all that additional tax revenue, the homeowner is not more likely to use an 11.2 percent in services.

So I guess we must treat this as guaranteeing pay raises to everyone in government for the next three years, keeping up the maintenance on all the stuff we have been using from government, like trash collection. Heaven knows, I'll probably increase my curbside collections by 11.2% while trying to do my best at recycling at the same time.

So I guess "Smart Growth" is working.

Smart Growth, in theory, makes sense from a planning perspective, put new homes and businesses near existing water, sewer and roads with support structures already in place like police and fire protection and we protect against "urban sprawl."

On the other hand, maybe "Smart Growth" is a cover for those in decision-making positions who want to use it promote increases in property values to cover the rise in the cost of government, while they use a variety of Smart Growth initiatives to stifle normal growth. So, we do pay for growth, whether it occurs or not!

Just think about it for a minute or two. The value of all housing has been rising at unusually high rates over approximately the last four years. During the same time, new home construction has essentially flattened out and, in some areas of the county, actually fallen.

So, with all this new money coming in from just having homes sit there, what additional benefits have we who own those homes received?

Do we have enough seats in our public schools? Has the commute gotten any better on our road system? Do we have better service from growing bureaucracies?

As all governmental bodies will now start what seems to be a perpetual process, their respective budgets for Fiscal Year 2005, hopefully a number of us will begin to question the need to keep property tax rates at the levels they are.

If those in office can demonstrate an increase in benefits, or if you prefer quality of life, ask them specifically what are we going to get MORE than we have received in the past for this extra $426.28. Or are we really "buying" something like a term life insurance policy that provides the same value, yet costs more with each increasing year of age?

One of the usual arguments by policy makers is that only one-third of the county received that increase, which is true. What they often fail to follow-up with is that the remaining 2/3rds will, in all likelihood, receive at least that same increase when their turn comes next year and the year after that.

Just ask those in charge what the increase was last year and the year before that, you may be amazed at what you find out. I know the last time my property assessment went down, do you?

To close, while talking about what seems an insignificant sum of just $426.28. Please don't forget that is on top of $3,814 already being paid for the respective taxes listed above.



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