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Reassessment rattles homeowners
By Patrick Burns
Anxiety raged Friday on social media when homeowners opened mail boldly labeled “Important: 2018 Preliminary Property Assessment Notice.”
Panicked residents took to Facebook to commiserate about the letters, which advised homeowners of their new property assessments – used to determine school, municipal, and county taxes – some of which had preliminarily increased 30, 40, 50, and even 60 percent.
So should readers worry about seeing huge tax hikes in 2018?
The answer is a definite maybe.
John Mavrides, the county’s director of assessment, emphasized the individual reassessment figures are very preliminary and could be adjusted before the final figures are mailed out in June.
Most importantly, residents must understand that current millage rates, multiplied by your home’s assessed value to determine tax bills, will be reduced by a proportionate amount to maintain revenue neutrality within a taxing body.
So, state law precludes a taxing power to produce a revenue windfall from a real estate reassessment.
“People need to understand that whatever those total assessments go up and we don’t have those assessments yet, the millage rate must be reduced proportionally,” said.
Preliminary countywide reassessment totals, combining 190,000 properties, has yielded an average increase property value of nearly 35 percent.
The average assessment increase in Ephrata Borough is 38.78 percent, 26.58 percent in Ephrata Township, 33.08 percent in Akron, 32.45 percent in East Cocalico, and 30.96 percent in West Cocalico.
Those whose new assessment increased above the average percentage change (see tables below) in that taxing jurisdiction would likely see an increase, and those significantly below those average percentages would likely see a decrease. That is not counting any vote to increase from a revenue neutral position.
But the taxing bodies won’t know the final total assessments and the total taxes they levied for 2017 until around November of this year.
The last two county-wide reassessments occurred in 1996 and 2004.
The ‘96 round, which adjusted assessments based on 1960 market value, led to a 570 percent jump in county property values.
The final figure for 2004 was about 18 percent. For a point of reference, the preliminary increase had been around 21 percent in 2004 before state deductions were applied for preserved farmland.
So, it’s too early to do the math to determine an individual percentage hike for tax purposes because the average assessment values will change when the state imposes Act 319 deductions on Clean & Green properties.
That land conservation program serves to lower the property tax rate for enrolled landowners who devote their land to agricultural use, agricultural reserve use, or forest reserve use.
“We have about 10,000 parcels that are enrolled in the ‘Clean and Green’ program, but we will not have the state’s greatly reduced land values on those parcels until the final notice around June 1,” Mavrides said.
So, in the vast majority of cases, but not all, the assessed value will be the same as the figure contained in the preliminary notice.
“Unless we hear from the owner that we have some information that is incorrect on the property such as too much square footage or wrong number of bathrooms – but other than that – we anticipate those numbers to be (accurate),” Mavrides said.
Appraisers typically estimate real estate reassessments result in one-third of property owners seeing their taxes go up, one-third will see taxes go down, and the rest will remain about the same. But that may not be the case.
“People in that business like to use that rule of thumb, but there’s no guarantee where it’s going to fall,” Mavrides said. “We know some will probably see their taxes go down some will see them go up, and some will stay close to the same. Whether it’s going to pan out into thirds, we really don’t know.”
He explained the main purpose for mailing the preliminary numbers is to give homeowners a chance to appeal.
“(Preliminary assessments) are out early so folks have a chance to look at it and see if it represents an accurate figure, does that represent market value,” Mavrides said. “Because you’re not appealing taxes you’re appealing what market value is. If you get that correct that will ultimately affect what your taxes are going to be based on the new millage rate.”
County workers will set up shop Monday at Park City Center to answer questions about the preliminary figures and the appeals process.
Officials will be available in the mall’s community room, near the Kohl’s entrance, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily from March 13 to 31 to review assessment information.
During the 2004 reassessment, roughly 3,600 corrections were made to property listings during the two months after the preliminary figures went out and 9,000 formal appeals were eventually submitted.
During the 1996 reassessment, there were 11,912 formal appeals filed. Of those, 8,122 led to reductions.
An inquiry to several school district officials and local municipalities found staff fielded few if any calls from residents concerned about future tax bills.
Preliminary assessment data was not shared with school districts and municipalities though new values go into effect Jan. 1, 2018, for county and municipal bodies, and July 1, 2018, for school districts.
Chatter on our Ephrata Review Facebook page has been dominated by homeowners hit with huge assessment hikes.
Tina Thompson expressed frustration in not knowing exactly how the new assessments will impact property taxes.
“I wish we knew a dollar amount. That’s the bottom line and what I want to know,” she noted. “…Part of the issue is the assessments have not been done in 12 years. This makes the amounts even higher.”
Patrick Burns is social media editor and staff writer for The Ephrata Review. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 721-4455.
About Patrick BurnsSocial media editor and staff writer for Ephrata Review and Lititz Record Express.
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