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Maryland's director of assessments and taxes was replaced after the agency failed to send notices on time

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BALTIMORE — Two months after state officials failed to notify more than 100,000 Maryland property owners of their latest reassessments, the head of the agency that oversees assessments has been replaced.

Gov. Wes Moore's office announced Thursday that Daniel K. Phillips will serve as interim director of the state Department of Assessments and Taxation while the search for a new director begins.

The Democratic governor's statement did not mention Michael Higgs, who has been director since 2016, but a spokesman confirmed he no longer serves in that role. The spokesman declined to comment further on the departure, saying it was a personnel matter.

A third of Maryland's 2 million real estate accounts were reassessed at the end of 2023. For the second year in a row, there were strong increases – an average increase of 23.4% for residential and commercial properties.

But the state agency, known as SDAT, claimed a mistake by a provider resulted in about 100,000 notices not being sent by Jan. 30, a statutory deadline. Once they realized the error, officials said they were working to correct the problem and that property owners still had the regular 45-day deadline to file an appeal once they received their reassessment notice.

State lawmakers said they were deeply concerned about the mistake, which could jeopardize millions in property tax revenue for counties.

A bill to retroactively extend the deadline is currently being considered in the Maryland General Assembly. Independent legislative analysts estimate counties will lose $30.1 million in local property tax revenue in fiscal year 2025 and $180.6 million over three years.

At least one top politician also suggested that the blame should lie with Higgs.

“It’s easy to blame a contractor. That's something I think (people say) when someone makes a mistake – they want to find the culprit,” Senate President Bill Ferguson said in late February. “This looks like what’s happening to me here. If you are the head of an agency, it is your responsibility to ensure that the functions of that agency are carried out effectively.”

Ferguson, a Democrat from Baltimore, said he did not want to “prejudge the situation” but stressed the need for accountability “when it is clear that there was negligence.”

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