Homestead credits for non-homesteads
The point of the homestead tax credit is to keep Maryland owner-occupiers from seeing their property-tax bills skyrocket. Nobody else is supposed to get the benefit of that tax break, but it's going to the owners of 465 homes cited by the city as vacant.
The analysis was simple: Colleague Scott Calvert and I compared the city's list of homes with vacant building notices against its list of properties with homestead credits. Total amount of city homestead credits to homes listed as vacant: $325,000.
The city sends its list of registered rentals to the state Department of Assessments and Taxation twice a year so it can be cross-checked for homestead recipients. But it hasn't been sending the vacants list and asking for the same analysis.
After we reported this on Tuesday, the city Finance Department said it would be sending that list to the state assessors by the end of the afternoon. Challengers to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, meanwhile, issued strongly worded tsk-tsks. The follow-up story is here.
In related tax-credit news (same story): Mayoral candidate Frank M. Conaway Sr. is receiving homestead breaks on two properties, a rental home as well as his own home. He said Tuesday that he had no idea he was getting the credit on the rental, and he notified the assessment department by email.
"I tried to pay it today, but they wouldn't let me," Conaway said. "Nobody wanted to take the money."
Loyal readers will recall that city resident Matt Gonter has spent years tracking down and reporting owners of properties with unwarranted homestead credits. Here's the 2008 story about his one-man effort and a 2009 update.
He's been prodding the city to do more on its own. Last month, the Finance Department launched a "billing integrity program" designed to catch tax cheats and those unwittingly getting breaks they shouldn't be receiving.