Commissioners talk reassessment, Sylvan Dell

In light of Lowe’s and Sam’s Club both appealing their county real estate taxes, the Lycoming County commissioners Tuesday brought up why they feel it’s necessary to perform a countywide reassessment.

The companies did not agree with the Board of Appeals’ values and instead presented much lower assessed values that, if accepted, could mean a $2.5 million assessment loss for Sam’s Club and $1.4 million assessment loss for Lowe’s, said Thomas D. Heap, tax claims director.

“Anytime there is a change in an assessment through a challenge process, there’s going to be the application of the common level ratio,” said Solicitor J. David Smith.

Because the common level ratio is based on the value of the dollar in 2004, the end number tends to be lower than the accepted appraisal.

“This is why it is important to do an assessment, because we get a more accurate representation in today’s dollars of what a property is worth and what is the fair tax on that property,” said Commissioner Rick Mirabito. “We’re going back to 2004 dollars, but we have 2019 expenses. Imagine you were being paid in what your money was worth 15 years ago? It creates inequities in what people are paying.”

One dollar in 2004 is equivalent in purchasing power to about $1.35 today, according to an inflation calculator, and its value is expected to drop again, Heap added.

In another matter, the commissioners will consider approving an agreement with Armstrong Township ensuring the grant funds received for the Sylvan Dell conservation area project will also go toward reimbursing the county for certain costs.

On that note, the commissioners addressed the funding sources that led to combining properties and the potential good the conservation area may bring the county.

The property is in a floodway and new regulations to the National Flood Insurance Program dictate development can’t occur there. Much of the area already is wetland, said Commissioner Tony Mussare.

“I look at it from the perspective of what that property may offer Armstrong Township, the Borough of South Williamsport from a Chesapeake Bay initiative and regulations from stormwater and what not – it could actually help those communities comply in the future,” he said.

“Just having this asset available, a dividend that might come later on is our ability to possibly use it with either the MS4 requirements or the stormwater requirements,” added Commissioner Jack McKernan. “This is looking like there’s going to be a way down the road to use this to help us get credits and help communities in the area. I’m not sure how that’ll work, but there certainly seems to be a lot of discussion.”

In addition to potentially helping with current and future federal and state regulations, the park also could enhance tourism in the area and add to the community’s quality of life, the commissioners said.

“I think the three of us should be very proud of this project, and the staff who have put this together and the people like Jim Dunn who brought it to us who were relentless … “ Mirabito said. “It’s analogous, to me, to the River Walk. When the River Walk came up, people were skeptical. Now, everybody uses it. They love it, it enhances the quality of life. And the beauty of that to me is we paid very little money for (the River Walk).

“I believe this is going to turn out the same way,” he said. “We’re paying virtually no tax dollars for this, and yet we’re going to get something that families are going to be able to enjoy for many generations.”

The county leveraged about $345,000 in Growing Greener funds, amassed through landfill tipping fees, to receive about $1.1 million in state funding to make the Sylvan Dell project happen, they said.

“People will say, ‘Well it’s still taxpayers money from down in Harrisburg,'” Mussare said. “Yes, but it’s earmarked for projects like this, and it’s our job to try to bring that money back into Lycoming County.”