Next door, vastly different property-tax bills
Homeowners on a stretch of Roundhouse Court in Pigtown are paying between $2,400 and $5,700 in property taxes this year.
The tax bill on one rowhome on Churchill Street in Federal Hill is $3,900, while directly across the street it's $6,500.
And on Bank Street in Upper Fells Point, you can find homeowners paying $2,900, $4,400 and $6,500, all within about a block of each other.
In each example, the neighbors' home values are basically the same. The reason their bills are not is that the Homestead Property Tax Credit caps homeowners' increases at 4 percent a year in Baltimore.
That limit has left many paying on far less than their full assessment, even with the housing bust that followed boom. Those who bought over the last several years, by contrast, have generally had no increases to cap, so they're paying full freight. You can find homestead-fueled tax-bill disparities across the state, but they're particularly notable in Baltimore thanks to its highest-in-Maryland property-tax rate.
The upside to such a cap is that it protects homeowners from skyrocketing bills. The downside is that it shifts more of the tax burden onto newer buyers and renters. (Landlords don't qualify for the break, and they pass their costs along via the rent.)
Scott Calvert and I spent several months delving into the homestead program and were amazed at what we found.
Did you know the value to recipients (and cost to the city) is $120 million this year alone? Or that the attorney general's office has for years opined that the program violates Maryland's constitution? And that hundreds of city property owners are getting credits that were inflated by mistakes or that they shouldn't be receiving at all?
Here, you can read about the hundreds of "double dippers" -- plus 17 owners getting credits on three or four homes each -- that Scott found.
And check out how Councilman Carl Stokes amassed a homestead credit that covers most of his property-tax bill but is advocating a change he thinks will spread tax relief more broadly.
Three cheers to Patrick Maynard for turning the data searchable and to Liz Pillow for making a list into an interesting gallery.
This is the first in an occasional series about property taxes in Baltimore. Feel free to chime in with ideas.
Oh, and in case you're wondering: Scott receives no break from the homestead credit because he lived overseas for a stretch as the Sun's Africa correspondent. I've been in my condo more than 10 years now, and my homestead discount covers about a third of my bill in the 'burbs.
Our tax bills didn't get us interested in how the homestead program works and doesn't work -- it's by far the biggest property-tax credit in the city, so it seemed a natural place to start the series. (Also, this homeowner's complaint about the homestead credit -- "You're robbing Peter to pay Paul. I'm Peter" -- stuck with me.)
What do you think of the homestead credit? Do you get a tax discount from the program?
Would Del. Samuel I. "Sandy" Rosenberg's sliding-scale idea be an improvement, or is there another method you believe would be fairer/simpler/better?