In an about-face, Baltimore finance officials are telling five city homeowners who received two years’ worth of erroneous tax breaks that they can repay the city over time and without incurring interest or penalties.
The city had demanded the owners repay the undeserved historic property tax credits – ranging from $1,700 to $9,200 – within 30 days, or else the city would tack on hefty penalties. The demand came as a shock to owners who said they had no idea they’d been getting unwarranted tax discounts.
The city’s initial position prompted strong criticism from City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young and Councilman James B. Kraft, who represents three of the owners. They noted that the owners never asked for these credits, which were incorrectly applied by the state Department of Assessments and Taxation, and that vague wording on city tax bills only added to the confusion.
One of the five, a social worker named Maureen Coyle, said the city’s softened stance comes as a big relief. She owes $5,700 and had said she wasn’t sure how she could pay it all back by the April 30 deadline.
“My issue was never not paying it,” Coyle, who owns a Patterson Park rowhouse, said Thursday. “It was about paying it in a reasonable timeframe. Based on this letter, it seems like they’re willing to work toward that end. I am cautiously optimistic.”
Coyle learned of the change in a letter from the city that arrived in the mail Thursday. It was dated Tuesday, a day after a front-page Baltimore Sun story detailed the erroneous tax credits and the repayment angst felt by Coyle and others.
In the letter, Deputy Finance Director Henry J. Raymond said, “Due to the irregular circumstances surrounding this issue and the fact that the tax credit was erroneously applied to your property by the state, you are receiving this additional notification to advise you of the process for making payment for taxes owed.”
Raymond said Coyle had two options: Repay the full amount by April 30, or work out a “mutually-agreeable” payment plan with the city by month’s end. In either case, he wrote, penalties and interest wouldn’t be assessed.
But now Coyle is feeling a tad less optimistic. On Friday, she called the city’s Law Department to discuss a payment plan, per Raymond’s instruction. But she said employees had “absolutely no clue” what she was talking about.
“They clearly do not feel the same sense of urgency about resolving this issue as I do,” she said Saturday.