Study stresses need to reassess

HOLLIDAYSBURG – A study of Blair County’s property values has identified wide inequities that the authors said justify the need for the first reassessment since 1958.

“Things are way worse than what I anticipated,” Commissioner Diane Meling said Tuesday after a presentation by certified property evaluator Dominick Gambino of Wexford and attorney Janet Burkardt of Pittsburgh. “If we were not to do a reassessment after seeing this, I think we’d

be challenged.”

In a presentation before commissioners Tuesday, Gambino offered a graph representing 59 people who bought properties valued at $85,000 since 2011.

Because the county’s assessed value of those properties ranges from $4,360 to $24,320, one property owner pays $140 annually in county taxes while another pays $780, Gambino said.

The rest pay something in between.

Gambino offered a pie chart representing property owners in the Tyrone Area School District who own houses valued at $100,000, based on the sales he examined. While the school district levies the same millage on property owners, the assessed value assigned to each property varies.

So the annual school tax bill for those property owners with $100,000 houses varies between $383 and $825.

Gambino used a bar chart to compare the municipal tax bill paid by five property owners in Hollidaysburg. Each paid $120,000 for a residential property, Gambino said, but their borough taxes range from $413 to $669 a year.

Commissioner Ted Beam Jr. said he appreciated the work that went into the study outlining the lack of fairness.

“I think it’s becoming quite clear,” Beam said. “We’re going to have to reassess. It’s time.”

Commissioners have been taking steps that put the county in position to consider reassessment, but so far they have neither hired a company to take on the task, nor have they identified how they would pay for what has been estimated in the range of $3 million.

County Finance Director Robert Kuntz has been researching some options, such as a bond issue or a low-interest loan that commissioners could consider, Beam said.

In January, Kuntz offered budget projections to commissioners showing that 2017 will be the year when the county won’t have enough money to pay bills, even if it levies the maximum 30-mill levy permitted by the state. Through reassessment, the county will be able to adjust its tax levy to a lower level that brings in the same amount of revenue. Thereafter, commissioners also have the option of taking a separate vote to consider a tax increase of up to 10 percent.

After the presentation concluded, Meling suggested commissioners consider some reassessment discussion at next Tuesday’s weekly meeting.

Burkardt said commissioners should expect to receive the entire study by the end of the week or by early next week. While it will include more information, she and Gambino indicated that the information already presented and the conclusion will not change.