Faced with more than 80 property assessment appeals generated from the Muncy School District, the Lycoming County Commissioners said Tuesday that the only fair way to deal with the issue on a countywide level is to conduct regular, planned reassessments.
The Muncy School District is challenging the real estate assessments of 83 properties within the district. David Edkin, district business manager, said a narrow selection of residential and commercial properties were chosen based on their purchase prices during the past three years.
Those being challenged were identified by the school district as paying a much higher purchase price than what their property's tax assessment on record was.
Affected property owners received notice from the school district and the county assessment office and were able to appeal the district's challenge.
Commissioners are hearing those appeals this week.
Jeff C. Wheeland, commissioner, said county reassessments should be "automatic" to level the field for all taxpayers. He said Pennsylvania is one of only four states that does not mandate regular property reassessments.
By law, a taxing body such as a school district or local municipality must reduce its millage rates after property reassessment. That means many people will actually pay less on their property taxes, he said, while making the process more equitable for all. In addition, the school district is limited to take in up to 10 percent of revenues generated from reassessment.
At the same time, however, not all properties in the Muncy School District fell under the recent appeal. That could mean someone living in one house valued at $100,000 who now is being reassessed may be paying more in property taxes than someone else living on the same street in a house valued at $150,000 who is not affected by the district's action.
But the commissioners also are concerned about businesses trying to avoid paying higher taxes. They pointed to the Target retail store near the Lycoming Mall, which has a property assessment of $8 million. Store officials contested that number Monday, telling commissioners they want their assessment reduced by half.
Commissioners and Cassandra M. Tompkins, chief county assessor, decided to wade through paperwork submitted by the corporation and make a decision at a later date.
Richard Sutton, a Muncy Creek Township resident, appeared before commissioners Tuesday. Sutton purchased his property last year for $145,000, which the school district asked commissioners to accept as a fair market value. When Sutton purchased the property, the assessed value was listed as $78,840, according to records.
Commissioners did not lower his assessment, but did change the assessed value to $116,000. That number is derived from the $145,000 recent purchase multiplied by 80 percent, which is the "common level ratio" applied by the state that takes the value to 2004 levels, when Lycoming County's last reassessment took place.
"The school district is being the sacrificial cow here," Sutton said. "Everybody is waiting to see what happens here."
Commissioners also will hear appeals from property owners Thursday from 1 to 5 p.m. in their board room at Executive Plaza, 330 Pine St.
Those still not satisfied with the county's decision can further appeal to Lycoming County Court of Common Pleas.