Carry out reassessments more frequently
Along with having an outmoded system of alcohol sales that has changed little since the 1930s, Pennsylvania is out of step with most other American states in that there is no statewide, established timetable for property tax reassessments.
Here, and also in New York state and Delaware, counties and municipalities can conduct reassessments whenever they want, or, as we have seen in Washington and Allegheny counties, whenever they are ordered to do so by a court. A 2010 League of Women Voters study of Delaware’s three counties found that one had not carried out a reassessment since 1974. The other two were little better – one had not had a reassessment since 1983, and the other had been putting one off since 1986.
In Washington County, 32 years have passed since a reassessment was carried out. In that time, the profile of the county has changed dramatically: some rural areas are now dotted by housing developments, and downtowns that once carried on robust business have been left to struggle. Businesses and, indeed, whole industries, have altered the complexion of the county and the region.
Though new tax bills won’t be arriving in mailboxes until January 2017, the possibility of property tax increases has caused no small amount of hand-wringing among home and business owners. And county commissioners could be facing flak if many bills increase. But there’s a way all of this turmoil could be minimized, if not altogether avoided – following the same procedures as other states and carrying out property tax reassessments on a fixed schedule.
In a talk with the editorial board of the Observer-Reporter on Tuesday, it was noted by Paul Flynn, who manages the Northeastern United States for Tyler Technologies, the firm that is carrying out the $6.9 million reassessment, that many states mandate reassessments be done at least once every three, four or five years. In addition, it’s not necessary to use the time and resources that are being expended on Washington County’s reassessment each time around – they examine overall trends in real estate sales and property valuations to raise or lower bills. Adopting this method would seem more efficient and predictable than waiting a couple of decades and having property owners brace for the possibility of wild fluctuations in what they owe.
Supporters of the reassessment have made a convincing case – some people have likely been paying less than what they should be over the last couple of decades, while others have been paying more. Carrying out reassessments more frequently would help ensure that everyone pays their fair share.