Residents seek reassessment answers

Blair County residents attending Tuesday night’s first public informational session on reassessment posed more questions than criticism about the often controversial subject.

One resident asked for details and for a checklist of items that will be used in determining the new property assessment. Another asked how the county intends to keep property assessments current when the housing market regularly fluctuates.

Senior citizen Jack Whitman of Altoona expressed a common fear after the session concluded: “Some people cannot afford to pay more in property taxes. “Altoona is an old town. It’s always been an old town. I think this is going to hurt me.”

About 150 people attended the session at the Blair County Convention Center with presentations by those who studied the county’s property assessments and by the company hired to handle the county’s first reassessment since 1958.

“How many of you still live in the same house that you lived in in 1958?” asked Gene Porterfield, owner of Evaluator Services and Technology Inc., the Greensburg-based company commissioners hired to handle reassessment at a cost of $3.34 million.

Four people put up their hands.

Porterfield promised that reassessment is going to assign up-to-date property values that eliminate the current range of property assessments causing some people to pay too much in property taxes while others pay too little.

“Whatever the property is, we will set a value so that property bears only its fair share of the burden,” Porterfield said.

Tyrone Mayor Bill Fink asked how that will be possible in Tyrone, where the value of downtown properties are being influenced by skyrocketing flood insurance premiums. Porterfield said his company comes up with assessed values that reflect property sales, neighborhood values and conditions of a neighborhood. Fink said after the session that he remains worried about the impact.

Commissioner Terry Tomassetti said he was pleased with the turnout, the presentations and the mix of community residents and leaders who attended.

Based on the study, Tomassetti said he remains hopeful that the senior citizens and longtime property owners of lesser-valued properties will not see their property taxes increase.

“The study indicates that they’re paying more than their fair share,” Tomassetti said.

Commissioners Ted Beam Jr. and Diane Meling said they were also pleased with the turnout and the reaction.

“I think the majority do want to be educated on reassessment,” Beam said.

Meling said she saw people murmuring during the portion of the presentation that focused on range of assessments and the resulting range in property tax payments. They clearly understood the discrepancy, Meling said.

Another taxpayer asked if he must return a questionnaire seeking information about his property and if he is required to allow data collectors onto his property.

“If you tell (our data collectors) to leave,” Porterfield responded, “then we’re going to estimate (your property’s) value …. and you don’t want us to estimate.”

Blue Knob area resident Clair Chappell said he knows of some differences in assessments and property taxes being paid.

“It needs to be fair, so let’s just see how it works out,” Chappell said after the session.

Logan Township Supervisor Ed Frontino said he thought the presentations were well done.

“It’s obviously going to happen so let’s just hope they do it correctly,” Frontino said. “And if there’s any hiccups – and you know there’s going to be some – then let’s hope they’re worked out fairly.”