Letter to Editor: Equal Burden Needs to be Shared among Chestertown Property Owners


Chestertown home owners are being arbitrarily and capriciously over-taxed.

I don’t object to paying taxes. They fund our schools and other key services.

But the story of the recent tax appeal by my wife and myself is instructive. It shows that residential property owners in town pay significantly more than those zoned for “agricultural land.” And I don’t mean just “farms,” some of which are small to medium size agri-businesses, with yearly turnovers in the hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars.

There must be equal burden sharing for all the community both in Chestertown and outside it.

The senior community in particular, and those on low fixed incomes, are under increasing cash-flow pressure.

We moved here in late May 2017, after 29 years in Washington, D.C. Chestertown is a wonderful place to live, offering multiple activities and the intimacy of a friendly small town.

But we are paying 50 percent more in property taxes than the previous owner of our home. To add insult to injury, within weeks of buying the house, with no alterations done inside or outside, the tax authorities added a mystifying one-third to what we paid for our property as “valuation.” We thought some kind of bureaucratic mistake had been made. How naive we were.

But the local property market is static or growing minimally, and has really not recovered from the major recession of the middle 2000s and a significant number of homes are still on the market, unsold.

And so began a frustrating round of three appeals.

First stop, in fall 2017, was the tax office on Lynchburg Street. We presented the “comparables” needed, i.e., prices of similar homes in the historic district, roughly the same size, with the same facilities, and which had sold in the past couple of years. We worked with our Realtor and a lawyer friend to gather this data.

To our surprise, our first effort failed, so we opted to appeal at the Kent County Commissioners offices, a number of weeks later. We revised our “comparables,” double checked for newer sales, and made our case once more. Importantly, we specifically asked what algorithm or method of calculation the assessor was using to justify adding one third to the price we paid, within just weeks of purchasing our house. We never received a clear answer. We lost again.

Now, it became a matter of principle. We appealed to tax court in Centreville and with the assessor present once more. But we lost yet again. To go to a final fourth stage at the courthouse in Chestertown, would mean paying for a transcript of the tax court hearing and other expenses. We decided it was just not worth it.

Before we began this whole process, we checked with others. One of the houses on our street, almost an exact copy of ours, was the subject of an appeal about three years ago and succeeded at the first stage in having their tax assessment reduced by a fair amount. But other householders who have appealed in just the last year or two have failed.

Is there a pattern here of tax appeals now more and more being turned down? It seems so.

It is time for residential property owners outside Chestertown who do not “farm” but live on “agricultural use” property to share the burden.

We have discussed this matter with our local council member. Perhaps there needs to be a public meeting about this where people can make their views known.

We keep reading about inequality in America.

We need to address inequality in Chestertown

Michael McDowell

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