For the past five years, the property tax rate has been $1.06 per $100 of assessed value.
In all but one of those, the constant yield tax rate — the rate at which property tax revenue would equal the prior fiscal year’s — has been less than that.
Adopting the constant yield instead of the constant tax rate has been a point of debate in county government for the past several years. Multiple officials this past week said they supported keeping the rate at $1.06, in order to pay for an increased demand for services.
However, councilmen Phil Dacey (R) and Steve McKay (R) tried unsuccessfully this past week to cut about $3.8 million from the county executive’s more than $637 million budget in order to use the constant yield tax rate — set at $1.0508.
County Executive Jan Gardner (D) said Monday that any cuts to achieve that goal would be costly.
“It just creates a deficit for the future, and most of these things will cost more in the future,” Gardner said, noting an amendment that attempted to cut $1.2 million in fiscal 2020 to non-county-owned stormwater facility retrofits.
County officials must advertise a public hearing for the constant yield and constant tax rate, according to state law. No one showed up for that hearing on May 7.
Dacey said his reason for introducing amendments was to provide relief for property owners countywide. The reason homeowners could pay more in property taxes, despite the rate being flat, is because assessments on their property increase.
David Etter, supervisor of assessments for Frederick County’s division of Maryland’s Department of Assessments and Taxation, said his department sends out assessment notices in late December.
The division does one of three regions annually for assessments. The most recent one was the southern part of the county, including Brunswick, Buckeystown, New Market and Urbana, Etter said.
Homeowners are given 45 days to appeal their assessments from when the notices are sent, Etter said.
“Ideally, we’d like to see sales comparables, if you’re talking residential properties. Comparable sales of nearby similar properties that would show market value is lower than the current assessment,” Etter said of the appeals process.
Assessments are increasing to levels seen before the Great Recession around 2008, Etter said. He added that the assessable base is almost $32 billion.
Etter said some areas that affect that include the increase in recent reassessment groups, new construction in the county, and other changes.
Multiple council members said they supported the constant tax rate, not the constant yield, because of the costs associated with the county budget.
Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer (D) said people’s assessments are going up because Frederick County is a more desirable place to live than when she moved to the county 30 years ago. That includes better services, she added.
“When my kids were growing up, we had to fight for field space for them to play sports,” Keegan-Ayer said. “Now we have parks all around in different regions of this county, where field space is provided, and we still don’t have enough field space.”
Councilman Kai Hagen (D) compared the constant yield argument to the state’s maintenance of effort funding requirement for public schools. As the county’s public schools were receiving the legal requirement, school officials found it more difficult to pay for staff, instruction, and other sorts of upgrades and improvements.
Maintenance of effort doesn’t really maintain the school system, Hagen said.
“It’s kind of a misnomer, and I kind of think it’s the same way of the constant yield. I would be shocked if the council supports it,” Hagen said.
Council Vice President Michael Blue (R) said that in order to pay for expenses, keeping the constant rate is a must.
“It’s almost like you’ve opened Pandora’s box,” Blue said. “Once you’ve got a budget and you’ve got a tax rate, yes, in theory, the constant yield is bringing in the same property tax as you’ve brought in last year. But the problem is, your expenses continue to go up.”
Property owners who want to pay less in taxes need to realize they’re doing so because their property values are going up, he added.
Dacey, however, said he wanted to be fiscally conservative when approaching the budget and tax rate this year.
“I guess the point could be made if the constant yield had raised $20 million, we probably would be spending $20 million more,” Dacey said. “And that’s the idea I want to push against, just because it came in, in taxes, doesn’t mean we have to spend it. It’s something that the county council’s role is, to make sure we’re allocating that wisely.”
The County Council will vote on the fiscal 2020 budget and proposed tax rate — $1.06 per $100 of assessed value — at its meeting Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. at Winchester Hall in Frederick.