Property tax and assessments: Your thoughts
Adam Meister, Reservoir Hill activist and blogger, is a fan of the "constant yield tax rate" -- the rate your local jurisdiction would have to charge to bring in exactly as much money next fiscal year as it's getting from property taxes now. When a local government leaves the rate alone, it typically gets more money thanks to rising assessment values. But as Meister notes, assessment values have been falling:
It is theoretically possible that in 2011 the city may be faced with a situation where they will have to RAISE property taxes to make up for a decrease in assessments. It is highly likely that such a situation will occur in 2012. ...
This is why we must cut government programs, fire government workers, and lower the property tax rate to the CYTR [constant yield tax rate] in 2010. If we manage our expenses correctly now, then lower assessment will not be a major issue in the future.
One interesting question -- and I don't know the answer to it -- is what percentage of residents with lowered assessments will still get annual tax-bill increases for some years to come, courtesy of the homestead tax credit.
As I've noted, and as columnist Jay Hancock spelled out, some number of residents are paying taxes on a lesser amount than even their soon-to-be reduced assessment value. That's because the homestead credit limits the assessment increase owner-occupiers pay taxes on in any one year. (In Baltimore, the cap is 4 percent.)
A Wonk reader named John commented here recently that the whole assessment and taxation system seems unfair to him:
Income tax is based on income, sales tax based on what you buy. Property tax is based on some bureaucrat's made-up assessment. It is a tax that has nothing to do with the income and ability of the person who must pay it. ... Property taxes should not change unless the property is changed or is sold.
Maryland assessors would of course argue that they're not making up numbers from whole cloth, they're comparing sales of nearby homes. But John's main point is one that others have made as well, namely: Why not just tax properties on their actual sale price?
California has a system that's sort of a cross between that idea and what Maryland currently does with its homestead tax credit. California begins taxing a homeowner at his or her property's "fair market value" at the time of purchase and then increases that amount every year to try to account for inflation -- but no more than 2 percent. In November the state announced a first-ever decrease (link opens a PDF).
Most systems strike some as unfair. Whenever you protect longer-term homeowners from increases, for instance, newer buyers pick up more of the slack (or rather taxes). Any suggestions for a fair-for-all system?
BigDragon, meanwhile, has a can-you-believe-it tale to share since his move from Pennsylvania into newly built digs in the region:
I got a property assessment notice in the mail just yesterday. It went up! They were just taxing the land, but now they claim someone built a townhouse here. I guess I don't have tall enough bushes outside! Darn, that always worked in Pennsylvania.