Commissioners want clarity in property assessment bill

Measure’s unclear language stirs confusion

By Kay Stephens

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Two Blair County commissioners said Mon­day that state lawmakers need to address ambiguous language in current rules governing the submission of property improvement de­tails to county assessment offices.

Commissioners Bruce Erb and Ted Beam Jr. took issue with a portion of the current law and in proposed Senate Bill 1006 requiring property owners to advise the county assessment office of improvements undertaken without a building permit.

Specifically, the law and Senate bill state that, if a person makes improvements “other than painting of or normal repairs to a building, aggregating more than $2,500 in value and a building permit is not required,” then the property owner should advise the county of the improvement and its cost.

That language has prompted concern among local property owners who fear higher property assessments and real estate taxes if they must report basic property maintenance work such as roof and sidewalk repairs.

They also asked if a property owner who replaces a furnace or installs new carpeting has to notify the assessment office.

Commissioner Terry Tomassetti said that SB 1006 is being offered as an amendment to existing county assessment laws so that building permit information, typically collected by municipalities, is regularly forwarded to the county assessment office.

Blair County noticed inconsistencies when it undertook its most recent reassessment and identified property changes that weren’t reflected on county records.

A synopsis of Senate Bill 1006 indicates that most reporting issues are handled successfully through better communication with municipalities. But the bill also allows penalties for “rare persistent problems” regarding the submission of building permit information.

Erb and Beam told Tomassetti that they understood the bill’s intention and support the goal. But both said they didn’t want to put their support in writing until state lawmakers deal with the law’s language addressing improvements without building permits.

It’s a lack of clarity, Erb said, and offering support before it’s addressed would be like putting the cart before the horse.

Beam took a similar stance and said he too wants that addressed first.

“If it’s clarified to our satisfaction, then we’ll support the bill,” Beam said.

Tomassetti proposed that, since Erb and Beam had no disagreement with the bill’s intention, the commissioners board could go on record in support and note their concern about the language addressing improvements that don’t require building permits.

Tomassetti said he was disappointed with the stance taken by his fellow commissioners because that means Blair County will be offering no comment on SB 1006.

“As the elected officials of the county,” Tomassetti said, “we should offer comment on the pros and cons of legislation that has an effect on the important concerns of county. … Yes, there needs to be some clarity, but failing to communicate that only hurts the county.”

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.