Officials address Indiana County reassessment concerns
By Greg Reinbold
Published: Friday, Aug. 30, 2013, 1:42 p.m.
Indiana County's first county-wide property value reassessment since 1968 has started, and property values throughout the county will increase by the time the project is completed.
But increased property values won't automatically mean a higher tax bill for everyone, a panel of officials told citizens attending an informational meeting Aug. 20 at the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex in Indiana.
“Most people would think that taxes would automatically go up, but that is not the case at all,” said Indiana County Commissioners Chairman Rodney Ruddock. “At the same time, there has to be some measure of neutrality and fairness built into the system so that you're only paying your fair share of taxes, and that's what the process is going to do for us.”
The reassessment, by law, must be revenue neutral, meaning any increase in the combined total assessed value of all county properties must be met with a corresponding decrease in the property tax millage rate to maintain a steady total tax revenue.
“Everyone's value will go up. There's no doubt about the fact that your assessed value will go up, but that's only half of the equation,” said M. Janet Burkardt, an attorney from the law offices of Ira Weiss, which conducted a study in 2010 that showed the county's property tax structure was unbalanced. “The assessed value is multiplied by the millage. The millage will go down (as assessed values go up).”
Still, many in the audience for the public information meeting saw the reassessment as a means for generating more tax revenue and used the meeting to voice complaints about tax burdens and the property tax system in general.
“A lot of people put a lot of money into fixing their houses up very nicely, so of course they're going to be punished...” one woman complained.
Others lamented over assumed increases to their tax bills resulting from the reassessment.
“If you're going to raise taxes, I'm going to have to move out of my house because there's no way I can afford more taxes,” another woman said.
County commissioners, school boards and municipal leaders can later vote to increase millage rates after calibrating tax rates to reflect the reassessment – just as they can vote to increase taxes during any regular budget cycle. The county can increase the millage rate by no more than 10 percent in the first year following reassessment.
Dominick Gambino, president of Diversified Municipal Services Inc., said tax bills for properties which sold for exactly $100,000 during the study period from 2007 through 2010 had county tax bills ranging from as low as about $250 to more than $800, demonstrating how inaccurate the tax system has become since 1968.
In general, a county-wide reassessment results in roughly one-third of property owners seeing an increase in their tax bill while another third sees a decrease and the rest see their taxes remain roughly the same, Gambino said.
None of the residents who spoke up at the meeting anticipated their property tax bill would decrease.
“One way to determine if your tax bill is going to go up or not, if you look at the average increase in the county, if your increase is less than that average, more than likely your tax bill is going to come down,” Gambino said. “The same with the school districts. If in your school district there's an average increase of 60 percent, if your increase was 50 percent, your tax bill will probably go down. It all depends on where your increase is compared to the average increase.”
Commissioners set property taxes for 2013 at 37.4 mills, with 30 mills devoted to the county's general fund.
The commissioners were required by state law to petition Indiana County Court of Common Pleas President Judge William Martin to raise the tax rate assigned to the general fund above 25 mills.
Residents will have an opportunity to schedule informal reviews after they receive notice of their new assessed values, and can appeal to the county's Board of Assessment Appeals and present their own evidence of fair market value.
The Board of Assessment Appeals' decision can be appealed to the Court of Common Pleas.
The notices sent to residents listing their property's new assessed value will also list a projected tax bill as well as the previous property tax information for the parcel.
“When you get your new assessment, at the bottom of that form will be a projection of what your tax bill will be compared to what you're currently paying...” Gambino said “That does include school and municipal, too – all three taxing bodies.”
Data collectors will canvass the county to record property characteristics and measure the exterior dimensions of houses and outbuildings, but will not enter buildings and will wear county identification badges, according to Evaluator Services and Technology, Inc. President Gene Porterfield.
The reassessment is expected to cost $3.5 million and take 30 months to complete.
Greg Reinbold is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at (724) 459-6100, ext. 2913 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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