Firm hired for reassessment study

HOLLIDAYSBURG – Blair County commissioners have hired a Pittsburgh firm to study the assessed values of some residential properties and detail inequities in their real estate taxes.

Commissioners voted Tuesday to pay $7,000 to Weiss, Burkardt & Kramer LLC for the study expected to take up to six weeks. The law firm finished a similar study in December 2012 for Indiana County, which is now in the process of updating its 1968 assessment.

A week ago, Blair County commissioners said they would take steps this year toward the first countywide reassessment since 1958, based on budget projections. In 2017, those projections show Blair County without enough cash to balance its budget and no ability to increase real estate taxes because of the 30-mill maximum general fund levy allowed by the state.

Commissioner Diane Meling, at Tuesday’s meeting, recommended hiring Weiss, Burkardt & Kramer to look at some of assessed values assigned to Blair County residential properties, in relation to their current values based on property sales.

Through the use of tax equity measures calculations, Meling said she expects the firm will be able to offer some examples of how the county’s assessed values are influencing real estate taxes.

“This would give an idea of whether our tax base is fair,” Meling said.

In the Indiana County study, the firm identified 17 residential properties that each sold for $100,000. But because of the county’s outdated assessment, one of the 17 property owners paid a tax bill of $850, and another paid $255, the study reported.

The Indiana study also showed that the owners of residential properties with lower values were generally paying more than their fair share of real estate taxes because the county hadn’t reassessed recently.

That could be the case in Blair County as well, law firm partner Janet Burkardt said Tuesday.

“The older your assessment gets, the more regressive it becomes,” she said.

While it will take a door-to-door reassessment to come up with up-to-date values for each Blair County property, Burkardt said the study will include a sampling of residential properties and examine the fairness in the real estate taxes being paid by their owners.

Commissioners Terry Tomassetti, who joined Meling and commissioner Ted Beam Jr. in voting for the study, said the results will be made available to the public. Tomassetti also said the study is expected to be written in a way that it can be understood by the public.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Beam said. “Hiring this firm is one of those steps that will help us to do the job right.”

Meling said the county’s assessment office budget has enough money to cover the $7,000 cost.

Blair County commissioners also said last week that they are interested in hiring a consultant to work with and oversee any company that could be hired to carry out the reassessment process. After the Indiana County study was completed, commissioners hired Weiss, Burkardt & Kramer as the reassessment consultant.

New property values have not yet been announced in Indiana County, Burkardt said.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.