Skip to main content
Government & Politics

Ferguson on tax assessment mail delay: ‘It’s easy to blame a contractor’

Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City). Photo by Bryan P. Sears.

The buck stops with Michael Higgs.

That is the message from Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) when it comes to who is responsible for the State Department of Assessments and Taxation missing a mailing deadline for 107,000 properties.

“To me, if you’re the head of an agency, it’s your responsibility to make sure that the responsibilities of that agency are executed effectively,” Ferguson said Friday. “I don’t want to prejudge the situation. From what I know, it’s pretty disappointing. And as I learned more, I think there would have to be accountability if it continues to be it’s clear that there was negligence”

Legislators are scrambling to fix the problem that could cost local governments by some estimates as much as $250 million over three years. They have yet to hit on a legislative remedy.

The State Department of Assessment and Taxation reviews property values of roughly 2.3 million residential properties on a triennial basis. Each county and Baltimore City is effectively split into thirds. Every year, one third of each jurisdiction is assessed with the property values phased in over three years.

The agency also assesses commercial properties, railroads or land owned by public utilities. The agency assesses those properties annually.

This year, residential properties saw a nearly 26% increase in assessed value over the current value. Assessments of commercial properties during the same period increased nearly 18%.

Higgs, who was named director of the agency in 2016 by then-Gov. Larry Hogan (R), blamed a vendor for the issue.

“SDAT utilizes the services of the State’s preferred vendor, the League for People with Disabilities, for the printing and mailing of these reassessment notices, which are typically sent in the final days of December each year,” Higgs said. “This year, SDAT learned of an error in the League’s process that resulted in approximately 107,000 notices not being sent. The League has since resolved the error and the missed recipients will receive notices in the coming weeks.”

The excuse did not impress Ferguson.

“There are kind of basic functions of government,” Ferguson said during a Friday meeting with reporters. “This seems to be a basic function of government. I understand that it’s easy to blame a contractor. That’s something that I think a lot of times when somebody makes a mistake, they want to find the person to blame. That looks like what’s happening here. ”

“In terms of the individual leadership, look, this is a really disappointing situation,” he said.

And as the Senate and House look for a way to fix the deadline issue, there is also talk of restructuring the assessments agency.

“There’s a larger issue,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chair Vanessa E. Atterbeary (D-Howard). “There was talk of maybe restructuring it, bringing it under the purview of the [state] comptroller. I think that is worth a conversation. I think this issue underscores that.”

Ferguson said he is open to exploring a restructuring.

“I don’t think that it’s obvious to me that a shift in agency automatically makes it one way better or worse,” he said. “I think we have to be really thoughtful about that. I’m open to studying it and trying to determine whether or not that [the comptroller’s office] is the appropriate place for the assessment process to exist.”


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our website. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

If you have any questions, please email [email protected].

To republish, copy the following text and paste it into your HTML editor.


Creative Commons License AttributionCreative Commons Attribution
Ferguson on tax assessment mail delay: ‘It’s easy to blame a contractor’