County adds interest to unpaid bills
Records obtained from Montgomery County Government reveal that several owners of cell towers that are situated on MCPS Board of Education property have failed to pay thousands of dollars of state, county and city property taxes that were due in 2012 and earlier. The offenders include Sprint, Comcast, and Cricket Communications.
The taxes were billed pursuant to a Maryland property tax law that requires lessees of government-owned property to pay property taxes.
A description of the applicable law is found in the Maryland Assessment Procedures Manual.
For government owned property, the tower site should be assessed to the tenant ( Lessee) in possession of the property. The Tax Property Article, in Section 6-102(e), provides that the "interest of a person in property owned by the federal, the State, a county, or a municipal corporation government is subject to property taxes as though the lessee or the user of the property were the owner of the property, if the property is leased ... in conjunction with a business that is conducted for profit."While the towers have been in place on school grounds for many years, the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation added assessment records for the towers to their database only recently after they learned that former Superintendent Jerry Weast had quietly signed leases with the cell phone companies over the past decade. Many of the leases were signed without approval from the Board of Education and without notice to the public.
Links to a few of the many unpaid property tax bills are below.
According to a high-level official at the Maryland State Department of Assessments and Taxation, failure to pay the tax bills will eventually lead to a tax lien sale of the towers and equipment that are on the leased sites.
Update -- 5/232013: We are being told now that the towers and equipment are not eligible to be included in the tax lien sale. Instead, the Montgomery County must sue the cell tower companies to recover the unpaid taxes, which is potentially a long and expensive process compared to a tax lien sale. In addition, taxes that have gone uncollected for more than three years can never be recovered due to a limitation imposed by state law.