Officials cite $2M expense, belief market will catch up

Last updated: June 12. 2013 6:02AM - 2930 Views
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County Council will hold a budget work session at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the council meeting room at the courthouse.

Luzerne County Council members didn’t vote to proceed with another reassessment Tuesday and spent much of their meeting seeking county Assessment Director Tony Alu’s opinion on the topic.

The issue was discussed because Hazleton City Councilman Jack Mundie has been citing property sales far below assessments in his area and urging council to honor the county’s past resolution to reassess every four years.

Harveys Lake resident and Realtor Michelle Boice also asked council Tuesday to take action to correct assessments. She said she has numerous examples of sales significantly differing from assessments.

Alu told council he does not believe the estimated $2 million expense is warranted at this time because sales indicate a real estate market plunge is leveling off.

The state annually compares sales and assessments and has concluded property in the county sold about 9.92 percent below assessed values last year, he said.

The county’s assessments were deemed the most accurate of all 67 Pennsylvania counties in 2009 — the year the last reassessment took effect — and 2010, but sales fell 9.4 percent below assessments in 2011.

Alu told council there are pockets facing little or no market growth but he said he believes sales overall will inch closer to assessments in coming years, making the values more accurate again.

He advises another reassessment when sales and assessments differ by 15 percent.

Councilwoman Elaine Maddon Curry said a delay won’t address properties that are underassessed or those with the “gift” of assessments that are too low.

Alu said assessment appeals are the answer, and roughly 1,200 to 1,500 property owners file them annually. However, he acknowledged property owners who are assessed too low are not filing appeals seeking assessment increases.

Councilman Stephen A. Urban, who voted for the last reassessment and four-year updates when he was a county commissioner, said properties in Florida are reassessed annually, and said county officials must stop “procrastinating.”

“It’s about fairness. That’s the real issue here,” he said.

Councilman Stephen J. Urban said he would support a reassessment because he has observed a number of sales below assessments.

Councilman Rick Williams asked if the $2 million is a solid estimate.

Alu said hundreds of thousands of dollars must be paid to an outside company to develop formulas to calculate the new values, and the rest will be needed for auxiliary appeal boards, mailing information to property owners and possibly renting a site for appeals.

A reassessment would take about two years to complete from the date county officials decide to proceed, Alu said.

Councilman Jim Bobeck asked Alu and the county administration to develop recommended benchmarks that should trigger council to pursue the next reassessment.

Boice warned council against putting stock in the annual state sales/assessment report card from the state Tax Equalization Board. She pointed to a 2011 performance audit by the state Auditor General’s Office and another state review that were highly critical of the board and challenged the accuracy of its analysis.

Alu said the Tax Equalization Board has problems but has taken “drastic steps to solve them.” The board is now under the direction of the state Department of Community and Economic Development, he said.

Frank Sorick, president of the Wilkes Barre City Taxpayers Association, urged property owners to file appeals before the Aug. 1 deadline and said he does not believe money should be spent on another reassessment because he is confident state officials will pass legislation to abolish school property taxes.

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