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Property values in central St. Mary’s County have decreased slightly since the last time they were assessed three years ago.

It is the fifth year in a row that the property assessments have fallen in St. Mary’s, but the decrease this year is modest.

Assessed values for residential and commercial properties in central St. Mary’s are down by 2.2 percent since they were last reviewed in 2010, according to the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation.

“The decrease was significantly less than last year’s,” said Sean Powell, supervisor of assessments for St. Mary’s. In 2012, assessed values in northern St. Mary’s dropped 7.9 percent from 2009.

The last time central St. Mary’s was assessed three years ago, values were down 16 percent from prerecession rates, Powell said.

Now, “The market has stabilized. We’re off the bottom and working our way back a bit,” he said.

St. Mary’s County saw property values increase as much as 84.3 percent between 2004 and 2007 at the height of the inflated housing market. Across the state, average three-year assessment hikes spiked 60 percent in 2006 and then plunged nearly 20 percent in 2011.

“It seems the market is pretty stable on average,” Powell said, though values can fluctuate depending on the neighborhood. In central St. Mary’s, construction of new homes continued in Leonardtown and in new sections of the Wildewood neighborhood in California.

While values in St. Mary’s decreased by 2.2 percent for residential and commercial properties, the average increase across Maryland was up 4.7 percent. Values were down in Calvert County by 2.9 percent and down 4.2 percent in Charles County.

Garrett County saw the steepest decline at 14 percent, while values increased by 11 percent in Montgomery County, the highest percentage in the state.

The state assessments are used to determine property tax bills, but while property values decreased by 2.2 percent in central St. Mary’s, most property tax bills won’t be going down.

In times of sharp assessment increases, the state and counties have a cap on how much property tax bills can increase from year to year. In St. Mary’s the homestead cap is at 5 percent on property taxes. So the taxable increase in assessments on the primary residence of homeowners was never permitted to rise more than that 5 percent during the boom years.

In those times of soaring property values, the cap “protected them a lot,” said Jannette Norris, county treasurer. “You never paid that large assessment” all at once, she said. The longer a person remains in their principal home, the longer the assessment credits build up, she said.

But for those paying taxes on rental properties, a 2.2 percent decrease in assessed value may only result in a $20 reduction on a tax bill, Norris said.

The St. Mary’s County property tax is 85.7 cents per $100 of assessed value. The Maryland property tax is 11.2 cents per $100. The total number of properties reassessed this cycle in St. Mary’s was 17,597. About 60 percent of those, 10,488 properties, saw decreases in value.

The residential assessable base in central St. Mary’s decreased overall by $103,523,100 (2.4 percent) to $4,290,736,700 and the commercial assessable base decreased by $4,544,000 (1.1 percent) to $404,460,800.

Property owners have until Feb. 10 to appeal their assessments, Powell said.

The next section of the county to be reassessed is the southern third.

jbabcock@somdnews.com