Worcester’s Property Values Continue Downward Trend

BERLIN — Property reassessment notices for roughly one third of Worcester landowners hit mailboxes this week, and while the average values continued to decline this year, the rate of decline has slowed after a few years of deep drops across the county and much of the state.
Assessments of real estate values in the south end of Worcester along with a vast section of West Ocean City that was added to the area to create relatively equal areas in terms of numbers of accounts were completed this fall and residential and commercial property owners received their new assessment notices this week.
While most in the current reassessment area saw their property values decline again for the three-year cycle, the average level of decline has slowed somewhat.
Residential properties were reassessed in the south end of Worcester this year including areas such as Pocomoke, Snow Hill, Stockton, Newark and Girdletree, along with much of West Ocean City. West Ocean City was added to the south end about six years ago in order to create three areas of roughly the same size. Because of its density of properties, Ocean City is reassessed on its own every three years and will be done next year. Residential properties in the north end of the county, including Berlin and Ocean Pines, for example, were done last year.
For the area reassessed this year, including the south end and West Ocean City, the average level of decline in property values came in at 7.8 percent, which continues a pattern of decline in Worcester over the last few cycles, but the rate of decline appears to be slowing, suggesting a return to normalcy after a pattern of peaks and valleys over the last few years.
“The property values in Worcester continued to decline on average, but appear to be declining at a much slower rate,” said Terri Smith, Assistant Supervisor of Assessments for Worcester County. “It has leveled off, which is good news after a few years of steeper declines.”
For example, according to State Department of Assessments (SDAT) statistics released this week, the change in full cash value for residential and commercial properties combined in the reassessment area this year came in at 7.8 percent. Last year, the average rate of decline in the reassessed area for residential and commercial combined came in at 14.3 percent for Worcester.
Residential properties in the reassessed area this time around declined by an average of 9.3 percent, while commercial properties reassessed this year declined by an average of just 1.6 percent. It’s important to note the SDAT figures for Worcester represent an average and each property account is handled individually. Some properties reassessed this year saw an increase while others decreased at a greater rate.
On the residential side, of the 10,159 properties reassessed in Worcester this year, 8,303, or roughly 82 percent, saw a decline in value. On the commercial side, 15,899 commercial properties were reassessed and 11,276, or 71 percent, saw a decline. Property values may rise or fall in the ever-changing real estate market, so property values are reassessed every three years to ensure property owners are paying a fair and proportionate share of taxes.
The recently reassessed property values will allow county and local governments to gauge a better understanding of what they will be faced with when setting budgets and tax rates in the coming year. For Worcester County, for example, the total combined assessable base for residential and commercial combined after the recent reassessment comes in at around $2.5 billion, down from $2.7 billion last year, for a difference of around $200 million. County officials will have to adjust for the decline with either cuts in spending or an increase in the tax rate, although the latter is unlikely in an election year.
A similar scenario is playing out in neighboring Wicomico and across much of the Eastern Shore to different degrees. In the area of Wicomico reassessed this year, residential and commercial property values declined at an average rate of about 6.2 percent, with residential declining at a faster rate than commercial. Somerset County saw the highest rate of decline at 13.3 percent, while Talbot County declined at a rate of 11.4 percent and Queen Anne’s declined at 10.4 percent.
All of the counties on the Eastern Shore show declines with some declining at rates faster than others. Across Maryland, residential and commercial property values actually increased in the current cycle by an average of 4.7 percent. However, the increase in the state’s overall average was driven largely by the densely populated center of Maryland.
For example, Montgomery County saw an average increase of 11 percent, Anne Arundel County increased by 10 percent, Howard County increased by 11 percent and Baltimore City increased by 7 percent. Garrett County in western Maryland saw the highest rate of decline with residential and commercial properties dropping by an average of 14 percent in the latest cycle.