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Last updated: February 16. 2013 4:45PM - 434 Views

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Luzerne County Councilman Stephen A. Urban said it may be time to start discussing plans for the next countywide reassessment.


‚??The numbers seem to be skewed and getting outside of that 10-percent range,‚?Ě Urban said during this week‚??s county council meeting. ‚??The values of properties have probably gone down in a lot of communities.‚?Ě


Urban had voted for the last reassessment, which cost $8 million and took effect in 2009, and said it was ‚??a very painful process‚?Ě because the prior revaluation was in 1965.


Urban and other officials had criticized their predecessors for ignoring the need for a reassessment and agreed to update property assessments every four years so they don‚??t get stale again.


A new reassessment won‚??t take effect next year as originally promised in the four-year plan because a state analysis last year showed sales prices are keeping up with assessments.


However, a recent state study of 2011 sales shows purchase prices are landing 9.4 percent below assessments.


Analysis to be done

County Manager Robert Lawton said he plans to ask county assessment office director Tony Alu to provide a sales and assessment analysis. The administration will then prepare a recommendation for council on how to proceed, he said.


Alu has said he would recommend a reassessment if the gap between sales and assessments increases to 15 percent.


County Councilman Tim McGinley, the incoming council chairman, said he‚??d like council to receive a report on the accuracy of assessments and guidelines indicating when reassessments are warranted.


Past county officials said the lion‚??s share of the next reassessment could be handled by county employees, as opposed to an outside company, to save costs.


McGinley said officials must figure out what‚??s involved in a project of that magnitude so they can factor in enough preparation time and funding.


‚??This should be monitored on an ongoing basis,‚?Ě McGinley said.


Erie County, a similarly sized third-class home rule county, is nearing completion of a mostly in-house assessment that will cost between $2.5 million and $3 million, said the county‚??s Assessment Bureau Director Scott Maas.


Erie County, which has 123,000 parcels compared to Luzerne County‚??s 168,000, last reassessed properties in 2003, after a revaluation in 1969. Erie‚??s new values take effect Jan. 1.


The county hired an outside company ‚?? Tyler Technologies, formerly Cole Layer Trumble Co. ‚?? to help prepare computerized modeling formulas to estimate new values, Maas said.


The rest of the work ‚?? photographing and visiting properties, compiling data sent to all property owners, processing phone calls and 16,700 informal reviews ‚?? was handled by employees, he said.


‚??I have a very tired staff here right now,‚?Ě he said. ‚??It was extremely challenging.‚?Ě


The county also spent about $175,000 on a fresh flyover and computer program that highlights structures built or enlarged since completion of the previous aerial data collection, he said.


Ensuring accuracy

The investment paid off because it identified 29,000 properties with changes that had to be checked to make sure no structures or add-ons were missed, he said.


Erie County also subscribes to Realtor databases of property listings to ensure its assessment property descriptions ‚?? such as the number of bedrooms and bathrooms ‚?? are accurate, he said.


The county ended up with 3,300 formal appeals, or 2.6 percent, he said. He believes the lower-than-expected appeal count stems largely from the informal review process, when property description corrections and other changes were made on many parcels.


Erie County‚??s assessor‚??s office employs 21, including mapping workers and excluding appeal board members, he said.


In comparison, Luzerne County has 24 employees when the mapping and assessor‚??s offices are combined and the three part-time appeal board members aren‚??t included, newly released records show.


Maas advises Luzerne County to plan in advance.


‚??We started working on this about five years ago. It was a learning experience for us,‚?Ě Maas said.


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