Reassessment becomes hot topic in Pa. counties

HOLLIDAYSBURG – Reassessment, a word once mentioned in a hushed voice, seems to be a topic that has become ripe for discussion – and sometimes action – in many Pennsylvania counties.

Despite the controversy often associated with the process, several counties have either elected or been forced in recent years to initiate a countywide property reassessment. The often-expensive task involves a parcel-by-parcel examination to come up with new values used annually in calculating real estate taxes.

Blair County, with a population of 127,089 based on the 2010 census, currently uses the oldest property assessment in Pennsylvania, completed in 1958.

Some reassessment-related activity elsewhere in Pennsylvania:

Adams County (population 101,407)

The last reassessment, conducted in 2010, updated property assessments set in 1990.

In October, commissioners decided to do away with ordinances requiring reassessments every four years, which would have put the task on their 2014 list of activities. Instead, they decided to adopt an ordinance that requires future reassessments based on economic changes that are linked to the previous year’s property sales in the county.

Clearfield County (population 81,642)

In July 2011, Commonwealth Court upheld a Clearfield County court decision declining to force a countywide reassessment. Lawyers on behalf of David W. Fox and a committee of concerned citizens sued Clearfield County in 2010, claiming its 1989 assessments lacked uniformity and fairness. The state court agreed with the county court, which concluded that David W. Fox’s property was disproportionately higher than other similar properties but could be remedied through the existing appeals process.

Indiana County (population 88,880)

Commissioners voted in May to initiate a countywide assessments of all properties. Commissioners there are currently levying 30 mills of general fund real estate taxes, the maximum levy permitted by the state. Assessors continue to conduct on-site property visits. New property values have not yet been announced.

Lancaster County (population 519,445)

Despite a resolution passed in 1996 stipulating that Lancaster County would complete reassessments every eight years, beginning in 1997, commissioners voted in August 2011 to postpone 2013’s reassessment until 2017. The vote was based on information indicating that property values, which peaked in 2007, had fallen.

Lebanon County (population 133,568)

The first countywide reassessment since 1970 was initiated in mid-2010 of 53,000 parcels. The bulk of the work was finished in late 2012. While new assessments initially prompted 5,400 appeals, almost all were resolved by November 2013 when commissioners certified the new assessed values.

Lehigh County (population 349,497)

The county’s completed reassessment of 125,000 taxable parcels in 2012 drew 4,000 appeals that took about a year to address. It was the first reassessment since 1991.

Luzerne County (population 320,918)

While reassessment was discussed, no decisions were made in 2013 to move forward with updating a 2008 property assessment that has begun to draw criticism. In Hazleton, properties were reported to be selling for 25 to 40 percent less than the values assessed in 2008. Luzerne County’s 2008 reassessment updated a 1965 reassessment. Leaders there also believed that the new assessment will eventually help three municipalities – Nanticoke, West Hazleton and Plymouth Township – shed their Act 47 financially distressed designations.

Lycoming County (population 116,111)

Commissioners decided in January to suspend the reassessment process initiated in 2013. The county has 5,355 parcels located in a floodplain, and their property owners are just beginning to learn of substantial increases in flood insurance because of the passage of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act. Commissioners fear that if those homeowners lose their mortgages because they cannot pay for flood insurance, their property values will change and so will the values of other properties who owners will have to shoulder the tax burden.

Washington County (population 207,820)

Commissioners voted in August to initiate a countywide reassessment of all 115,000 properties. The action was a way to answer and end a 2008 lawsuit

initiated by two school districts.

The county’s last reassessment took effect in 1981, and since then, the county has gone through substantial development and growth realized by the presence of energy companies involved in the Marcellus Shale industry.

Based on a contract

with Tyler Technologies, Washington County expects to have new property tax assessments by July 1, 2016.