Last fall, Tyler Technologies Inc. deployed its first wave of data collectors, armed with tape measures and clipboards, to Washington’s Fifth Ward as it launched the first property reassessment in Washington County in more than three decades.
Residents of the city and East Washington Borough, the first municipalities to see data-collection teams, also will be the first to receive a mass mailing asking them to verify that the information Tyler has on file is correct.
Lest someone mistake the missives as junk mail, the envelopes being printed last week are to feature, in bold print, the message, “Important Reassessment Information.”
Tyler Technologies, of Moraine, Ohio, was the successful bidder last August for the $6.96 million computer-assisted mass appraisal of 118,000 properties. The county commissioners awarded the contract five years after the Washington and McGuffey school districts went to court to force the countywide reassessment.
The approximately 5,000-piece bulk mailing is scheduled to be dropped off Friday at the post office, so it could be in the hands of local residents by Saturday or early next week. Out-of-town property owners likely will be receiving the mailing a bit later.
The data-mailer information sheet will have what Tyler considers its best photograph of the structure and a diagram of the building’s footprint with exterior measurements and information such as number of rooms, stories and architectural style. On the back of the information sheet is a list of definitions and explanations about sales history, and whether the purchase was what’s known as an “arm’s-length transaction”; if it was completed under “special circumstances,” such as between family members; or if the sale was due to foreclosure, tax sale or other conditions.
“If I received this, I would check a couple of measurements and make sure the bedroom count is correct, look at the glossary and understand what this is for and what it’s about,” said Wes Graham, project supervisor for Tyler.
The footprint notes only the length of exterior walls, not the dimensions of rooms.
Property owners are being asked to notify Tyler within two weeks if information on the sheet is not correct. They can call Tyler at 724-228-5019 or mail the correct information to Tyler’s return address at 50 Old Hickory Ridge Road, Washington, PA 15301.
If no one answered the door on the day a data collector visited a neighborhood, the Tyler employee was to leave a yellow card on the door asking the homeowner to submit the information. The return rate peaked at about 72 percent, but has recently dropped to 68 percent. Graham said he couldn’t identify a reason behind the decline in participation, but he thinks it could tick back up.
Washington and East Washington are serving as a test batch for the data mailers. The next waves of mailers concerning residential properties will each contain about 20,000 letters. Data mailers for commercial properties will be sent out last or next-to-last. “We get a lot of questions about commercial properties,” Graham said.
Although Tyler’s mailings note, “Our firm has been retained by Washington County to conduct the reassessment of all real estate for property tax purposes,” it does not mention specifics about county, municipal or school district tax rates, or what may happen to them once the appraisal process is completed.
“Reassessment is for valuation,” said Washington County Recorder of Deeds and Director of Tax Revenue Debbie Bardella, who, along with Graham and Robert Neil, the county’s reassessment project manager, discussed this latest phase of the reassessment at Tyler’s office in Arden.
“Then, it’s up to the (governmental) entities to worry about the tax side.”
If there’s a discrepancy in what Tyler reports and what the property owner says he or she owns, the county also has a new database of aerial photos compiled in March and April, once snow melted and before trees were in full leaf.
Along with East Washington and all wards of Washington, municipalities where residential data collection has been completed, according to Graham, are Canonsburg, Houston, Green Hills, Chartiers, Canton, South Strabane, North Strabane and North Franklin. Commercial data collection is complete in East Washington, Washington, Houston and Canonsburg.
Graham said those who own vacant lots won’t be getting any mailings from Tyler until February 2016, when the firm sends preliminary valuation notices.
According to the timeline Tyler developed, property owners will be receiving tax bills based on the reassessment in January 2017.