A Taxing Tale of Three Taxpayers
Accountability is rare in Montgomery County. The Montgomery County Council has imposed multiple tax increases, including an 8.7 percent Real Estate property tax increase. Who pays these real estate properties at their high rates? Increasingly, the people of Montgomery County have less. It is especially noticeable when a dentist with his or her own practice can no longer afford to pay rent; when a once middle class widow cannot afford a memorial service so she can bury her husband with dignity. The real estate property taxes have been used to target certain individuals for whatever reason political, personal or perhaps race.
For example, three adjacent properties (A, B and C) on Rt. 28 in Darnestown have undergone major renovations but have received very different treatment.
Property A has a large home and one structure that has been advertised for rent as a 3-bedroom house with living room and kitchen. Each structure consists of two stories, on over three acres of land. The combined assessed value for both structures is $154,900 and land value of 3.22 acres is $278,600. The total assessed value is $433, 500. County Real Estate (property) Tax for 2015 was $4,445.44 and for 2016 is $4500.62.
Property B, the smallest of the three, pays more in taxes than the other two larger properties. The structure is 27 feet by 47 feet built in 1967 with a septic tank, without additional structures like a deck or garage, on less than 1 acre of land. The tax bill for 2014 was $3399. In 2016, an assessor, Wayne Lesonick, stopped by Property B, because the owners added a second story to their ranch. The assessor looked around and measured things up. Then he appraised their 1967 ranch with a second story addition at $562, 000, though it sits on less than 1 acre of land, at $238,900 and dwelling value at $323,100. The addition (27ft x47ft, second story) alone was assessed at $241,300 even though the owners spent substantially less to build their addition.
The third property, Property C, is a home built in 2007, on a 2-acre lot. The property was assessed at $164,700 and land $262,700 for a total assessment of $427,400 for 2016.
Comparable properties like Property B are sold for $425,000 and less. The Property B owners appealed the assessment in June 2016 to the Maryland Assessment and Taxation Office, Montgomery County. It was denied. The property owners appealed to the Board of Appeal in July, 2016. The case has been pending for a hearing.
Apparently, on July 29, 2016, the Maryland Assessment Office, Montgomery County changed their assessment downward, to $485,000 for 2015. The only way the Property B owners found out was when they received a newly revised bill from Montgomery County financial office. On August 23, 2016, the Maryland Assessment and Taxation Office of Montgomery County Office, after the first denial of the appeal, was still not satisfied with the outcome and had decided to assess once again Property’s B “new” addition, but this time with the final notice of an assessment of $144,000.
A victory for the taxpayer, you say. The value of the addition was reduced. Not so fast. The final notice did not specify what the new total value of the home is, that includes land and building’s phase in value on a going forward basis. The homeowner did not receive the statement that has that information that homeowners normally receive after an assessment. To obtain that document, the Property B owner went to the Maryland Assessment Office of Montgomery County where she met with Almeida Frazer, Assessor Supervisor, Real Property Montgomery County.
The Assessor Supervisor thoughtfully looked over all of the paperwork; then she thoughtfully said the new note is an additional $144,000 value for the same second story addition. Then she cleverly stated that the total value should be $562,000 and $144,000! Then she added $562,000 to $144,000 and she proudly said that property prices have gone up in Montgomery County, whether that’s true or not. She scribbled with a pen on their work sheet that the total new assessed value should be at $706,800, by adding $562,00 and $144,000, when similar homes have been sold for less than $425,000 in the area. This is how Montgomery County operates — all of a sudden, a home worth less than $425, 000 is now worth over $ 700,000.
When the property owner asked multiple times if she could get an official statement that reflects total market value with land value and “phase-in Final Market Value,” her request was denied. In response, the Assessor Supervisor, Almedia Frazer, yelled multiple times at a taxpayer “you get nothing” and “you already have everything” and then multiple times she instructed others to not give any statements or paperwork to the property owner as the property owner stood there with her toddler. As the supervisor was yelling, her staff employees jumped in with their own statements in hopes that the property owner would just go away. The property owner hasn’t gotten the total assessment statement.
As of 2015, the County’s net direct debt was $3,144,750,000 in the form of outstanding bonds. The bonds “are repaid to bondholders with a series of principal and interest payments over a period of years, known as debt service. In this manner, the initial high cost of capital improvements is absorbed over time and assigned to current and future citizens benefiting from the facilities.” Not only the debt is climbing, but officials use highly overvalued assets $167,311,891,416 to leverage the debt of $3,144,750,000. The bond market is in one big bubble.
Property owners should worry about the deterioration of the rule of law, accountability and transparency. It seems foolish to invest in your home and property when the quality of life and education in the county are deteriorating and the culture and integrity are disintegrating at a very fast pace. There is no point in improving your homes just to be taxed over and over again.
Editors Note: the author is a party to the issues in question