Commissioner: Reassessments are needed more frequently

Lycoming County Commissioner Tony Mussare said he initially opposed the idea of property reassessments when he first got into office about a year and a half ago.

That changed, however, when he began to realize the iniquities of the county’s assessed property values, he told members of the Lycoming/Sullivan Counties Boroughs Association Wednesday night.

As a business owner who has multiple properties, Mussare said he, like most other taxpayers, didn’t want his taxes increased.

But he soon realized that other property owners who had much newer buildings were being assessed at about the same or lower values than his older buildings in the same neighborhood because the county’s property assessments hadn’t been updated in 10 years.

The last countywide reassessment took place in 2004.

“I changed my mind about reassessment after I went through my first board of appeals,” he said.

Mussare and fellow Commissioners Jeff C. Wheeland and Ernie Larson agree that the county’s present system of determining property values is outdated and unfair. In some places, neighbors on the same street with similar properties are paying very different property taxes.

The longer the county goes without a property reassessment, the more the actual property prices and assessed values move apart. Over time, that means that some people end up paying more or less than what they actually should owe in property taxes.

Commissioners also said they were forced to take action when the Muncy School Board last year appealed the values of 83 properties within its district that sold within the last few years.

Mussare said that was an “unfortunate” outcome of natural gas-related property sales in the district.

Commissioners feared other school districts would take matters into their own hands and appeal more properties. Mussare said there were at least 235 properties that were identified where owners could have challenged and won appeals in county court, which potentially could have cost the county more than $700,000.

“And that would not have solved our problem,” he added.

Pennsylvania is one of only six states in the country that does not mandate property reassessments on a regular basis, Mussare said.

Blair County, for instance, has not had a countywide property reassessment since 1958, he said. That means a brand new house is assessed at the same ratios as a 100-year-old home.

“Somebody’s not paying their fair share there,” said Mussare.

He added that previous boards of commissioners were right to institute a countywide property reassessment years ago, even if it was considered to be unpopular.

Mussare said the present board of commissioners agrees that reassessments should take place every six to eight years.

The commissioner said that although the purpose of a property reassessment is so everyone pays their fair share, he doesn’t want businesses to be hampered with additional taxes.

“I would hate like heck to see their taxes go up to make them not competitive. That’s my biggest concern,” he said.

Mussare said that while the county may see additional tax money from a reassessment, the purpose is not to raise revenue. By law, the county may only receive an additional 5 percent in taxes from a reassessment. While property assessments may increase overall on the average, the county would be required to reduce its millage rate correspondingly.

That 5 percent is estimated to be about $1 million, which would be used to pay for the cost of implementing the reassessment, Mussare said.

Property owners will receive surveys this fall to verify property information. New property values will be mailed in June 2014.

No one from the county’s assessment office will go inside people’s homes, Mussare said.

He said he urges property owners to check the accuracy of the information they receive and to file a timely appeal by Sept. 1, 2014, if they dispute their new assessment.