Could State Guide Washington Reassessment?

Could State Guide Washington Reassessment?

Earlier this week the Board of Commissioners in Washington County, a county where a reassessment has not been conducted since 1981 (their base year, but they adjusted their predetermined ratio of assessed to market value in 1985) and enacted a 16% millage hike in 2010, reached back to 2009 to the vendors who said they would be interested in conducting a countywide reassessment should that ever happen. Based on articles (here, here, and here) that may be coming soon, albeit with a state level change.

Under a bill pending in the General Assembly the state’s Equalization Board would be housed inside of the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED). The hope is that by making this move there will be more professionalism and sharing of expertise. The powers and duties of a shifted Board would include notifying county assessors when there is a change in a county’s common level ratio of plus or minus 10%, informing school districts of certified market values, etc. The key points that might affect a reassessment in Washington County or other counties conducting assessments after the legislation (should it become law) are these:

  • 1. "Create an operations manual in consultation with the County Commissioners Association of PA and the Assessors’ Association of PA for counties to utilize when completing a countywide reassessment or when valuating property".
  • 2. "Create and maintain a centralized and standardized statewide database for counties to utilize and report all property values and data to the Board."
  • 3. "Develop and maintain statewide basic and detailed training programs for all persons involved in the valuation of property within all counties. The programs shall be completed and passed by any person that is employed to collect, compile, compute or handle data for purposes of reassessment valuation within the State."
  • 4. "Develop standards on contracting for assessment services in consultation with the County Commissioners Association of PA and the International Association of Assessing Officers."

Our 2007 report on improving the property assessment system in PA included a recommendation that the Department of Revenue or STEB be involved as an overseer of the assessment process, including bringing some standardization to the process. We argued for a three year time line on reassessments, zero windfalls, and voter approval of all millage hikes.

Washington County Commissioners, while holding their nose after much delay, hope to be guided by this legislation. Taxpayers should also be aware that the County has to abide by Act 93 of 2010, which prescribes what has to happen to millage rates following a reassessment. Much like Allegheny County’s Act 71, the taxing body (county and municipalities) have to roll millage rates back to be revenue neutral, then, in a separate vote, can get 10% more than the amount the revenue neutral rate would bring in revenue. Taxpayers, knowing that it is possible for their assessment to go up but their taxes could go down with revenue neutral rates, would know that they could gauge their increase against the increase in the community as a whole.