As you would expect, the Lancaster County Property Assessment Office has fielded a lot of calls since preliminary reassessment notices went out earlier this month.
In the first few business days after the mailing, there were “probably over 100 a day,” said John Mavrides, the office’s director.
This year’s reassessment is the first since 2005. On average, assessed property values of all types went up an average of 34.5 percent countywide, according to preliminary figures, but there were sharp variations among municipalities.
There were also variations from neighborhood to neighborhood within communities. In Lancaster city, for example, average residential assessments went up 61 percent in the northwest, 44 percent in the northeast, 29 percent in the southeast and 20 percent in the southwest, according to Patrick Hopkins, the city’s director of administrative services.
The mailing property owners got recently is the first of two notifications: Final notices will go out in early June.
Callers’ No. 1 question was what their taxes were going to be. The answer: It’s far too early to say.
“A lot of people were taking the new number times the current millage rate,” Mavrides said. “That’s not going to happen.”
Instead, each jurisdiction and school district will first lower their millage so they generate the same amount of revenue from the new assessments that they did from the old ones this year.
Then, if they have to raise taxes to balance their budgets, they’ll do that separately. State law limits county and municipal tax increases to no more than 10 percent in a reassessment year. School districts are subject to their usual Act 1 caps, which are usually well below 10 percent.
Before any of that happens, the county has to deal with appeals and adjust for properties that qualify for lower assessments because they participate in Pennsylvania’s “Clean and Green” program. The program allows farmland, forest land and open space to be vaued based on the income it can generate, rather than the price it would garner if sold.
Right now, the task at hand for property owners is determining whether their assessment accurately reflects market value, Mavrides said.
If it does, they need do nothing further. If not, they should consider an appeal. Appeals
Appeals can be filed at any time up to 40 days after the mailing of the final notice in early June.
Mavrides, who started as a field appraiser in 1994, has been the office’s director since 2009.
He lives in East Hempfield Township, and the assessment on his home went up more than 40 percent. “It is what it is,” he said.
LNP spoke with Mavrides last week. Here’s a Q&A based on that discussion and materials provided by the Assessment Office:
Q: Why are reassessments necessary?
The goal is to ensure all properties are assessed fairly and uniformly. Otherwise, disparities arise and increase over time. The state Supreme Court has ruled that periodic reassessments are needed to avoid unconstitutional levels of unequal taxation.
Q: How was it done?
Appraisers don’t go out to every property. Instead, the office uses a computer-aided mass appraisal system. Staffers maintain regular property visits and update records via construction permits received from municipalities.
For residential properties, 2012-14 sales of nearby comparable properties are used to estimate value. For commercial properties, a combination of sales, rents and incomes are used.
Q: How much did it cost?
The office did the appraisal in-house, spending roughly $800,000 over three years. Hiring an outside firm would have cost much more, about $7 million to $8 million.
Q: When will the new assessments take effect?
Jan. 1, 2018. School districts will begin using them for the 2018-19 fiscal year.
Q: Why did property values go up so much?
The last reassessment was conducted in 2004 and took effect in 2005. Based on current sales, 2005 values were about 75 percent of today’s.
Q: How do I appeal?
There is a form on the Appraisal Office’s website. You should supply documentation to support your case, such as recent sales of similar homes in your neighborhood. You don’t have to have an appraisal, but if your home is unusual, it might be worthwhile.
Q: Didn’t the county pass a resolution mandating reassessments every 8 years?
Yes, it did. However, in 2012 the market was still recovering from the recession, so the county chose to delay reassessment four years until it stabilized. Then, in 2016, the Assessment Office was implementing new software so it requested and received an additional one-year delay.
See this article at LancasterOnline.com