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A reassessment issue: how heavy the levy

A reassessment issue: how heavy the levy

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Many Montgomery County property owners in 2019 will pay a higher county real estate tax bill.

Last month, Montgomery County staff mailed out roughly 37,000 notices informing property owners of their new quadrennial reassessment. The values of single-family homes across Montgomery County are going up by an average range of 3 to 11 percent.

The tax bills for several properties will go up for the first time in some years due, in part, to assessments in Montgomery County generally remaining the same for four consecutive years. The board of supervisors, the county’s governing body, also hasn’t raised the tax rate since 2013.

Exactly how much more taxpayers will begin paying next year, however, depends on a few factors that have yet to be determined.

The county invites property owners who disagree with their reassessment to appeal the new value.

There are informal appeals, which began this past week and will continue until Nov. 19. There are then formal appeals, which need to be postmarked by Nov. 9 and will be heard by the Board of Equalization starting in January.

And residents can take their case to the courts if they still disagree with the equalization board’s conclusion.

Then regardless of appeals, the board of supervisors will have the authority next year to lower the current 89-cent tax rate to soften the effects of the assessments on taxpayers if the board so chooses.

If supervisors do drop the rate, the only property owners who would see their tax bill increase either disappear or roll back significantly are those on the very low end of the reassessments.

Take a property with a $200,000 value that increases by 11 percent to $222,000. Eleven percent is the top of the average range of increases in Montgomery County.

Under the current rate, that property owner’s annual tax bill will go from $1,780 to $1,975. If supervisors were to, for example, lower the tax rate by 5 cents, that owner’s new bill of $1,864 would still be higher than their current one.

Supervisors interviewed this week have yet to take a definitive stance on next year’s tax rate, but they also didn’t oppose the idea of leaving it at 89 cents.

Board Chairman Chris Tuck has on more than one occasion during the past year pointed to reassessment as a way to raise revenue while not burdening residents with a tax increase every year.

“I’ve always looked at reassessment as how the county deals with inflation,” said Tuck, a Republican who both earlier this year and in 2017 voted against proposals to increase the tax rate. “Everything gets more expensive every year.”

Tuck pointed to rising fuel and health insurance costs as some examples of how inflation affects the county.

“I don’t necessarily see it [the reassessment] as a positive thing because I know that additional tax burden does create hardship for some people. I’m very sensitive to that,” board Vice Chairwoman April DeMotts said. “But in terms of having additional revenue, it is a positive thing because we have a lot of uses for that additional money.”

One area the new revenue can address is staffing issues such a longtime frozen positions, DeMotts said.

DeMotts said she also doesn’t oppose the idea of leaving the tax rate the same for at least another year.

“It doesn’t benefit the county to have additional revenue and then cut the tax rate to where we’ve zeroed out additional revenue,” she said.

Montgomery County School Board member Connie Froggatt echoed some of the supervisors’ points.

“It’s going to mean significant revenue for our county that we have not really seen for four years because we only reassess every four years,” she said. “In some ways, this is catching up with growth we’ve seen over the last four years.”

The county’s biggest financial responsibility is Montgomery County Public Schools, which occupies more than half of the locality’s operating budget.

The county is regularly under school district pressure to meet a variety of needs ranging from school capacity issues to filling long vacant positions and keeping teacher salaries competitive. Additional school budget requests each year are often not fully met.

Two examples of needs Froggatt said could be addressed with the additional reassessment money are making teacher salaries more competitive with those of neighboring school districts and finally trying to fill roughly between 30 and 40 jobs that have been open since the 2009 recession.

Froggatt said the revenue could also end some of the cutbacks on special activities such as field trips.

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