Commissioners OK reassessment

Lycoming County commissioners Thursday officially began the process of a countywide property reassessment with a unanimous vote in favor of doing so.

Since the last reassessment that took place nine years ago, property values have been skewed and do not reflect accurate trends in the market, commissioners and Cassandra M. Tompkins, county chief assessor, agreed.

“Trends in the market have become inconsistent and unfair. Reassessment is the only way to establish consistency” and equalize the tax base, Tompkins said.

Commissioners said some property owners either are paying too little or too much property taxes. Reassessment creates what they say is an even playing field.

“This board has pondered this, has studied this and determined that it is the right thing to do for the county,” Commissioner Jeff C. Wheeland said.

While a countywide property reassessment is not designed to raise additional revenue, adjustments made to property values could generate around $1 million. Wheeland said those costs would in turn be used to offset costs for conducting the reassessment process.

State law requires that the county’s millage rate be reduced after reassessment to reflect a neutral revenue.

Information provided by commissioners also states that in a typical reassessment, about one-third of property taxes increase, one-third stay the same and one-third decrease.

Wheeland said reform is needed that requires Pennsylvania to conduct regular reassessments so property values don’t get out of line with market trends.

He read a summary from a 2010 Center for Rural Pennsylvania report that recommends regular reassessments.

“Reassessments enable counties to derive more tax revenue per mill, thereby lowering tax rates and decreasing the overall residential tax burden,” Wheeland read. “Additionally, countywide reassessments were shown to improve property taxation equality and uniformity across the county.”

Vincent J. Matteo, president and CEO of the Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce, supported the county’s move for reassessment but cautioned commissioners to realize the “artificial inflation of property values from the natural gas industry.”

Matteo also suggested that an independent appeals board be formed to hear from property owners.

“The chamber urges you to do that,” he said.

Wheeland said that was possible, adding that of the thousands of appeals that took place during the last reassessment, many of them were handled in an informal appeals process.

Only two citizens spoke during the commissioners’ meeting about reassessment. One of them was Old Lycoming Township resident Glenn Williams.

“It’s like going to a doctor with a big needle and him telling you to bend over. That’s how I look at it,” he said of reassessment.

He said reassessment doesn’t take into consideration the age of property owners or their ability to pay.

“I have never seen my assessment go down and have never seen my tax rate go down,” Williams said. “People living on a fixed income cannot keep paying more and more.”

Property owners will receive written notification on or before July 1, 2014, from the county’s assessment office regarding new property values, according to Tompkins. The new values will take effect beginning Jan. 1, 2015.