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Report aids case for reassessment in Lackawanna

It doesn’t require a taxation expert to recognize that property taxation throughout Lackawanna County inherently is unfair. It could not be otherwise because the last countywide assessment was in 1968.

To contend that the current assessments are fair and accurate, one would have to contend that nothing has changed since then.

The failure to reassess is not rooted in economics, but in politics. A long succession of county administrations have declined to reassess because too many commissioners feared the political backlash that might result from some percentage of property owners who experience tax increases due to accurate property values.

Of course, some percentage of property owners would pay lower taxes due to accurate property values, but they somehow escaped the commissioners’ notice until 2018.

Then, a group of Scranton residents sued the county, contending that Lackawanna County’s failure to reassess had resulted in their being overtaxed for at least 12 years.

The state constitution and supporting law require uniform taxation, which is impossible to achieve with a 53-year-old assessment base.

Taxation expert Robert C. Denne recently filed a report in the case, stating: “Lackawanna County’s reliance on this incredibly outdated base year has resulted in massive property tax assessment nonuniformity.”

The county has argued in the case that there is no uniformity issue because the common level ratio, which is calculated by the state and considers out-of-date assessments, is the same countywide.

But as the plaintiffs’ attorney countered, that is irrelevant because it only applies to assessment appeals, rather than to the vastly disparate taxes that the vast majority of county property owners pay based on the obsolete assessment base.

State appellate courts already have rejected the county’s argument in several cases from other counties, which have been ordered to conduct reassessments even though their most recent reassessments were not nearly as old as Lackawanna County’s 53-year-old relic.

The county commissioners should stop waiting to lose in court and start preparing a reassessment — all the more so because the government’s $20 million-plus surplus and impending receipt of more than $40 million in federal pandemic-recovery funds eliminates the traditional excuse that the county can’t afford a reassessment.

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