Senate Budget & Tax Committee discusses new ways to assess property taxes, PG hospital funding

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By Jessica Campisi

Capital News Service

Instead of conducting a physical property inspection, the state would use satellite imagery and other technologies to assess home values, under a bill presented to the Maryland Senate’s Budget and Tax committee on Wednesday.

Properties must be surveyed and inspected every three years, Maryland statute states, but since 1975, the amount of assessable properties has increased significantly while the number of assessors has decreased, said Michael L. Higgs Jr., deputy director of the Department of Assessments and Taxation.

But with oblique aerial imagery — which would take pictures of all four sides of each house to create a combined digital image – this problem would be solved, Higgs said.

“Our budget has taken hits repeatedly, and it hasn’t been allowing us to hire new assessors,” Higgs said. “We’re hitting the limit of what the human workforce can do.”

Some committee members, such as Committee Chair Sen. Edward Kasemeyer, D-Baltimore County, were skeptical of Higgs’s testimony.

“You’re telling me that you’re still walking around each house? Because I’ve never seen that,” Kasemeyer said.

But while this bill may ensure that all houses will be accounted for, Sen. Bill Ferguson, D-Baltimore, said the software may not be able to accurately capture the specific features of a particular property.

If passed, it will cost the state about $5.6 million over the next few years.

Local government expenditures could increase by about $2.8 million. Small businesses would not be affected, according to the bill.

Senate president lobbies for Prince George’s hospital funding

Senate President Mike Miller also testified in favor of a bill that would allocate state and county funding for a new local hospital in Prince George’s County.

In Gov. Larry Hogan’s proposed Fiscal Year 2017 budget, no money was dedicated from the state toward the hospital’s construction. The bill proposes that the state pay $143 million – including a required $15 million payment in fiscal year 2017 – toward the hospital between fiscal 2017 and fiscal 2021, while Prince George’s County would pay $208 million.

“This is a very important issue, not just to the state, but to Prince George’s County,” Miller said. “Gov. (Larry) Hogan chose to cut $15 million for the hospital in (Fiscal Year) 2016, and a simple solution would be for the government to release $15 million and put (it) in the budget.”

Tax return bill aims to combat tax fraud, protect individuals and businesses

The committee was also faced with a debate over filing tax returns and paying refund claims, in the hopes of eliminating tax fraud within the state.

Capital News Service reported in December that by moving up the deadline to submit withholding statements, the Office of the Comptroller would have more time to investigate the claim and determine whether it is legitimate.

“Maryland would save millions just by getting employees to get their forms in a month early, and because the comptroller is holding onto the refunds until March 1,” said Sen. Delores Kelley, D-Baltimore County, who proposed the bill.