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Monroe commissioners approve countywide tax reassessment

By David Pierce
Pocono Record Writer

Posted Jun. 2, 2016 at 11:06 AM

The Monroe County commissioners vote 3-0 Wednesday — despite strong opposition voiced during a 90-minute public hearing — to authorize a countywide reassessment of all properties, aimed at achieving more equitable property values for tax purposes.

The reassessment will take effect in 2019 — 30 years since the last time the county implemented an all-at-once reassessment of all properties in the county. The values determined by property assessments are the basis for establishing school, municipal and county tax bills.

The commissioners — in their role as the Monroe County Board of Assessment Revision — said the reassessment will correct unfair relative property values that inevitably occurred since the last comprehensive reassessment in 1989. All residential and commercial properties — including structures built since then — are assessed based on 1989 values.

Growing disparities in how similar properties in the same neighborhoods are assessed sparked up to 900 appeals annually since the 2008 housing market crash, Commissioner John Moyer said. Successful appeals that won reductions in property values — aided by a 50 percent reduction in a state property value ratio based on recent sales — has resulted in those who haven't appealed their assessments paying even more in taxes to make up funding shortfalls, he said.

"The only way in my mind to get back to comparable values is to do a reassessment," Moyer said. "I look at this as merely a correction that needs to be made after a 30-year hiatus."

But Realtor Diane Grinaway said a reassessment will result in some homeowners receiving substantially higher tax bills, with little time to prepare for it.

"How can you do that overnight?" Grinaway asked. "We've lost thousands and thousands of homes in the last eight years and we've lost hundreds of businesses. Home prices have never been this low. You have to go back to the '70s."

Grinaway said she just closed a real estate office she operated for decades but will have to keep working past her expected retirement age as a broker. She said the area's only hope remains passage of state House Bill 76, which would eliminate school property taxes in favor of higher sales and income taxes.

"That's what we need," Grinaway said.

Moyer said that after speaking recently with a state legislator, he is less optimistic than ever that the state will ever address unfair school funding policies.

"Maybe we'll get to equitable funding but it's not going to be in my lifetime, I believe," Moyer said. "The fact is we have to do something that's under our control (reassessment) to try to make it equitable."

Former Stroud Mall retailer and landlord Bill Parkinson of Stroudsburg said a poor local economic climate will be made worse by a mass reassessment.

"What's happening here is disgraceful," Parkinson said. "There's no economic stimulation here. We're all losing our jobs and we think we're going to get somewhere with what we're doing now?"

Stroudsburg Borough residents need to elect local officials who will work together on a development strategy, county Commissioner Charlie Garris told Parkinson.

"You get the people you elect," Garris said.

Bob Attianise of Hamilton Township asked how the county will fund the estimated $6 million to $7 million cost of hiring a company to inspect and set relative values for 103,000 properties.

Moyer said the county would likely seek a bond issue. Such borrowing would push back the county's total debt repayment date from 2023 to 2025, he said.

Attianise said the county could increase tax payments by reviewing and correcting records of owners who aren't paying for home additions and other amenities. He predicted that a reassessment will be "a catastrophe."

But East Stroudsburg Area School Superintendent Sharon Laverdure — armed with a resolution from her school board — voiced support for reassessment. She said the process will result in fairer taxation across the board.

Garris noted the East Stroudsburg District challenged the assessments of 40 properties on grounds those owners are paying too little compared to other taxpayers.

"We have to," Laverdure replied. "We have to protect our residents."

The motion to perform a reassessment won unanimous approval. The commissioners are considering two companies to do the reassessments — EST, based in Pennsylvania, and Tyler Technologies, of Texas – but took no action Wednesday on awarding a contract.

(Original Article)

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