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According to new Mayor Celina Benitez, embryonic property tax relief plans for small apartment buildings died due to vaguely specified legal hurdles that would require a law from the state legislature to overcome.
At the May 19, 2021, Mount Rainier City Council Meeting, Legislative Priorities Discussion, Benitez said she was “crossing it off the list” and asked if everyone was okay with that.
The announcement is a sudden about-face on a high-profile policy that Benitez has promised to expand. At a city council meeting in February, as a city council member considering a run for mayor, Benitez announced plans to create a new class of property tax that would allow the city council to tax small apartments at different rates than other classes of real estate in the city. The aim would be to lower their tax rate below that applied to large apartment complexes.
Responding to a request for information on the subject from new councilman Jarrett Stoltzfus, Benitez said state officials informed her that the city could not create a sixth property tax bracket just for small apartment buildings in apartments.
Benitez said a property tax class for small apartments would require the state and county to revise their tax codes, a possibility she said was unrealistic in the near future. Even if it did, the resulting changes would be beyond their control, could affect everyone in the state, and could defeat the city’s goals for such a policy.
“When I contacted Maryland Taxation, they said a sixth couldn’t happen unless the county and state created one,” Benitez said. “At that time…we’ll have an opinion, but it might not be what we thought.
Expanding on his explanation slightly later in the discussion, Benitez said a key legal hurdle was the attempt to distinguish apartment buildings by size or shape rather than use.
“To be clear, it’s not just about creating it. It’s the fact that we’re trying to do that for small apartment buildings,” Benitez said.
Councilman Scott Cecil said he still wants to pressure state officials on the matter.
“I will continue to work on this issue no matter what,” Cecil said.
Councilor Luke Chesek, who also floated the idea of a tax bracket for small apartments, said “he doesn’t see a future right now” on the issue.
The goal of a sixth tax class is a consequence of Mount Rainier’s controversial decision in 2019 to split its property tax rates into five different classes, including one for apartments and one for single-family homes.
Along with unresolved questions about the impact of such a policy on the mostly low-income and minority tenants of these apartment complexes, objections also came from owners of smaller apartment buildings, who felt aggrieved. by a tax classification system designed to generate revenue. large apartment complexes that city officials say generate a disproportionate number of calls to the police. A Route 1 Reporter analysis found that most police activity takes place in the city’s commercial corridors along Rhode Island Avenue and Queens Chapel Road.