Luzerne County's tax base has decreased $56 million – about a third of a percentage point -- since June, according to a new snapshot reading by the county assessor's office.
This certification analysis, completed three times a year, shows the assessment of taxable property went from $19.856 billion on June 12 to $19.8 billion on Nov. 9.
The decline stems from reductions granted to property owners who appealed their assessments, said county Assessment Director Tony Alu. The reductions were not offset by new construction, he said.
One of the largest single reductions -- $13 million -- was for the Wyoming Valley Mall in Wilkes-Barre Township.
The property, owned by PR Wyoming Valley Limited Partnership, obtained a new assessment of $76.1 million through mediation in July, records show. The change means the mall will pay $1.68 million in property taxes under current millage rates, or $287,320 less.
Alu said roughly 2,000 property owners appeared before the county assessment appeal board this year, or twice the typical 1,000.
Some of the appeals involved flood damage from September 2011, though Alu believes most challengers were motivated to take the time to contest their values because of the struggling economy.
Other counties are also noticing appeals have been up, Alu said.
When warranted, the county assessor's office presents evidence showing why reductions should not be granted, he said.
Our office tries to defend the values as best as it can, but people have a right to present their cases, Alu said. If property owners have a valid argument, we want them to appeal and get it straightened out.
The $56 million equates to about $300,000 in lost revenue for county government at the current millage rate.
County Manager Robert Lawton said the administration will adjust expenses if necessary.
In the context of $98 million in current and prior-year tax receipts budgeted for 2013, a variance of three-tenths of 1 percent does not appear sufficient to imperil the budget, Lawton said.
While the tax base declined countywide, the situation varied in each of the 76 municipalities.
Sixteen municipalities experienced assessment growth, while 54 lost value.
Six municipalities stayed the same during the five-month period: Jeddo, Luzerne, Sugar Notch, Bear Creek Village and Franklin and Wright townships.
Only two of the 16 growing municipalities had assessment increases of more than 1 percent – Buck and Hazle townships, with 1.2 percent each.
The other municipalities with gains: Ashley, Duryea, Freeland, Hughestown, Warrior Run, Wilkes-Barre and eight townships – Dallas, Dorrance, Dennison, Jenkins, Nescopeck, Newport, Rice and Sugarloaf.
The largest assessment percentage decline – 11.1 percent – was in Laurel Run.
The following percentage reductions of more than 1 percent occurred in these municipalities: Yatesville, 5.3; Shickshinny, 4.1; Wilkes-Barre Township, 3.4; Fairmount Township, 3; West Pittston, 2.5; and New Columbus, 1.4.
Shickshinny and West Pittston were hit hard by 2011 flooding.
While Pittston, Nanticoke and Hazleton lost assessed value, the fourth city – Wilkes-Barre – gained 0.6 percent, or $8.7 million.
Wilkes-Barre's tax base is now $1.4 billion, the highest of the 76 municipalities.
Hazle Township, which ranks second, picked up $16 million in new property, for a new total assessment of $1.3 billion. Township officials expect to capture the top slot in coming years because the municipality has plenty of acreage available for industrial and commercial development.