Local lawmakers lauded legislation approved by the House Thursday that would impose a temporary moratorium on countywide property tax reassessments in Washington County.
The Senate passed the bill earlier Thursday, which means it is headed to the governor's desk.
House Bill 1696—which is identical to a proposal offered by state Rep. Jesse White earlier this year—is part of a three-bill package spearheaded by White, D-Cecil; and state Rep. Brandon Neuman, D-North Strabane.
The representatives said the intent is to reform the state's “flawed” method of reassessing property values to protect homeowners from dramatic increases in property taxes.
"The moratorium bill is an extremely important milestone on the way toward accomplishing significant property reassessment reform, and a major, major victory for taxpayers," White said. "I thank the House and Senate for recognizing the urgency of this situation and acting upon it so that those counties currently facing court-ordered reassessments, such as Washington County, can be spared from wasting millions of taxpayer dollars on a reassessment process that is proven to be flawed.
He continued: "I am not opposed to property reassessments, but they must be done the right way to ensure homeowners and small business owners aren’t hit with devastating tax increases," he said. "The passage of the moratorium and the other reform measures will save taxpayer money, provide an opportunity to straighten out the mess, and promote a system where counties can conduct a fair and accurate reassessment."
In addition to the moratorium bill, the House on Monday approved two resolutions offered by White and Neuman that will create statewide task forces to study and make recommendations to improve the reassessment process.
White explained the moratorium implemented under H.B. 1696 would give the task forces time to implement the changes.
His legislation will establish a state task force to, among other things, examine the county reassessment process to develop a set of uniform standards for county reassessment contracting, develop standards for disclosing the county's system of property valuation and assessment, and a develop self-evaluation tool for counties to determine when a reassessment is warranted; and
The task force will ultimately recommend a standard to be used for a statewide mandatory reassessment time frame.
Neuman's legislation will create a task force to develop new procedures for collection and verification of reassessment data to ensure it is representative of the county's property inventory.
Both representatives will participate on the task forces and will report their findings within six months.
"While this is not the final piece of the puzzle in reforming the reassessment process, it is a significant step," Neuman said. "The moratorium and task forces will help us make major headway in correcting some of the flaws we've identified in the past. I think everyone understands that a poorly conducted reassessment will be catastrophic for the people of Washington County and Representative White and I are thrilled we were able to get these bills through the legislature."