Reassessment may occur more often

Commissioners talk policy, ideas at breakfast meeting

It took 58 years for the Blair County commissioners to authorize reassessment, but it likely won’t be that long before it is done again.

“If it were my decision, it would be done in seven or eight years,” Commissioner Bruce Erb told members of the Blair County Chamber of Commerce Breakfast Club on Thursday at The Casino at Lakemont Park.

“I am in favor of a regular reassessment or a review of whether it is needed. I would recommend we do it every eight years. We can do it in-house to save the expenses,” Commissioner Terry Tomassetti said.

The 2016 reassessment was a learning experience.

“After 58 years, we have accurate property values; technology in our office has improved by leaps,” Erb said.

He added that with increased expertise, along with the available technology, the costs to perform the next reassessment “should plummet dramatically.”

Tomassetti said past boards of commissioners have been criticized for not doing reassessment earlier.

“Everyone criticizes the past commissioners; no one wanted reassessment. The finger is being pointed at prior boards; they did what the populace wanted. I was against reassessment, but after I researched it, I realized it was the wrong position,” Tomassetti said.

The commissioners recently approved a 2018 budget, which calls for a 0.79 mill increase in real estate taxes, about a 25 percent increase.

“We would have experienced about a $7 million deficit without a tax increase. Our fund balance would be gone without a tax increase. Despite the tax increase, we will be left with a $2.3 million projected fund balance at the end of this year. We think we are taking some steps. We want to come out with a balanced budget so we are not using up the fund balance,” Erb said.

The commissioners increased the contribution to the county pension fund.

“The county pension problem did not happen overnight and will not be solved overnight. We increased our contribution to $4 million, all out of the general fund. This board has done a good job to try and turn this around,” Erb said.

Under the present payment program of at least $4 million a year, the pension program will be whole by 2041.

“We had contributed

$2 million the last four years toward the pension. It was like the tail wagging the dog for us,” Tomassetti said.

There is a misunderstanding that the county gained revenue from the reassessment.

“We didn’t get any new money from reassessment. It did not provide us extra revenue. The tax increase was heavy. We cut as much as we could to make the budget work. I had many sleepless nights. We tried to find other ways to cut the budget, and there weren’t any. We are trying to get back onto solid financial footing, and I think that we are getting there,” Commissioner Ted Beam Jr. said.

On another topic, the commissioners are pleased with Southern Airways, which provides daily flights at the Altoona-Blair County Airport at Martinsburg.

“We are very fortunate to have Southern Airways. They have been a partner and are marketing the service. There are plans to expand at the airport, more hangars and office space, which will benefit the airport overall. Bill Sell of Bill Sell’s Bold will be the new operator of the restaurant at the airport,” Beam said.

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.