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By JESSE YEATMAN

Staff writer

The value of homes and commercial property in St. Mary’s County remains lower than it was three years ago, but the decline is easing, according to state assessors.

Combined residential and commercial cash values for properties in northern St. Mary’s dropped by 7.9 percent compared to when they were last assessed in 2009, the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation reported this week.

Residential values in St. Mary’s dropped by 8.4 percent while commercial values remained practically flat, decreasing by just 0.3 percent.

This is the fourth year in a row in which assessment values decreased, following the collapse of the real estate market in 2008. Prior to the recession, values were increasing from year to year, sometimes wildly.

Each year one-third of the county is reassessed. In 2007 values for properties in northern St. Mary’s rose by 84.3 percent during the previous three years for all improved property.

Despite the nation’s slow recovery from the recession, “that area is actually growing,” Sean Powell, supervisor of assessments for St. Mary’s County, said. He added that new subdivisions in Morganza, Mechanicsville and Charlotte Hall are coming online as well as commercial building, especially along Route 5 in Charlotte Hall area.

This latest round of assessments included more than 500 commercial properties and about 13,000 residential properties (about 9,300 of which had homes), Powell said.

In St. Mary’s, 92 percent of the homes assessed this year dropped in value, while about 78 percent of commercial properties decreased, according to the department of assessments and taxation.

Homeowners in the northern third of the county can appeal their assessments by Feb. 11 if they disagree with the new numbers. Powell said that assessors aim for an assessment that is at or just below a home’s market value.

He said that the housing market seems to be leveling out.

The median home sale price at the end of 2009 in the northern third of St. Mary’s was $308,000; this year it was $284,000, Powell said.

New values will be immediately reflected in the next property tax bills for rental homes and commercial properties. But for those living in their own homes, the bills aren’t likely to go down.

St. Mary’s County government has a yearly 5 percent cap on the increase of property taxes for primary homes to protect the owner from large increases in assessed value. In this round of assessments, many homeowners will still see a hike in the tax bill because increases in previous years were capped at that 5 percent, and essentially bills are still catching up to those increases.

Caps range from no cap in Talbot County to 10 percent caps (the highest allowed in Maryland) in Calvert, Montgomery and Somerset counties. The caps only apply to homes where the owner lives.

Every county in the state except Montgomery and Howard saw property values decrease this year, when residential and commercial values were considered. Values in Montgomery went up by about 4 percent while those in Howard went up by 2.5 percent.

The largest percentage decreases were in Wicomico County (-17.4 percent) and Caroline County (-15.7 percent).

Commercial property fared better on the whole in the state, with 13 of 24 jurisdictions showing an increase. Overall, commercial values showed an average increase of 11 percent.

The southern third of St. Mary’s County was assessed in 2011; home and commercial values dropped by 9.6 percent then, according to the department of assessments and taxation.

The assessed value of the central section of the county, last done in 2010, showed values decreased by 16 percent. That section will be reassessed next year.

Jason Babcock contributed to this story.

jyeatman@somdnews.com