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

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.

About The Author

Capital News Service

Capital News Service is a student-powered news organization run by the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism. For 26 years, we have provided deeply reported, award-winning coverage of issues of import to Marylanders. With bureaus in College Park, Annapolis and Washington run by professional journalists with decades of experience, we deliver news in multiple formats via partner news organizations, a destination Web site, a nightly on-air television newscast and affiliated social media channels (including Twitter and Facebook). We provide breaking news coverage, in-depth investigative and enterprise journalism, and serve as a laboratory for students to test and develop innovative new methods of reporting and telling stories. By providing a true newsroom experience to our students, we send them into the job market with real-world skills and the ability to shape the future of journalism. Only Merrill’s most motivated students are accepted into the Capital News Service program, and they go on to land internships and jobs at the nation’s finest news organizations: The New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, the Associated Press, Politico, the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, ProPublica, National Geographic, NBC News, The Dallas Morning News, the Washington City Paper, Washingtonian magazine, Money magazine, the Wall Street Journal and more.

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