York and Adams Smart Growth Coalition

York County Tax Appeals Spike 83%

8/17/2012
 
York County tax appeals spike 83%
By CHRISTINA KAUFFMAN 505-5436 / @ydyorkcounty
York Dispatch
Updated: 08/17/2012 10:45:22 AM EDT

Hoping to save money on taxes in a down housing market, nearly twice as many York County property owners have filed for an assessment appeal this year.
Homeowners and others have until Aug. 1 each year to file an appeal for the coming year's taxes.
More than 1,740 people took advantage of the appeal process from Aug. 2, 2011, to Aug. 1, 2012.
That's an 83 percent increase from the 952 who did so the year before.
In 2010, 842 assessment appeals were filed. In 2009, the number was 421, less than a quarter of the number filed this year, according to the York County Assessment and Tax Claim Office.
York attorney Kurt Blake, who has represented about 40 clients for appeals over the past year, said most of his clients have appealed because they want to bring the assessment of their homes, businesses or investment properties in line with the actual market value.
Market value, or sale price, has been declining since the collapse of the housing market caused a rise in foreclosures.
Blake said savvy clients are realizing the 2006 reassessment valued properties higher than the prices homes and commercial or industrial properties are fetching.
For example, one client bought a house for $135,000 after it sold for $300,000 five years ago, Blake said.
There are several neighborhoods in which assessments are significantly higher than sale prices, he said, and the appeal fever spreads.
When one neighbor successfully appeals his or her assessment, which can save hundreds of dollars per year, Blake will often hear from other neighbors, he said.
He said a majority of his clients have their assessments lowered by an average of about 20 percent. That saves $480 -- $40 per month -- for a homeowner who pays $2,400 per year on property taxes.
How to do it: Homeowners don't need an attorney to file an
appeal. They need a recent appraisal and forms that can be found on the Assessment and Tax Claim Office's website, http://yorkcounty
pa.gov/property-taxes/
assessment-and-tax-
claim-office.html.
The number of people who have chosen to file appeals suggests a discrepancy between assessments and market values, said E. John Fedor, director of the Assessment and Tax Claim Office.
His office doesn't keep track of the percentage or dollar amount of successful assessment appeals each year because workers are too busy, he said.
The state Tax Equalization Board tracks the difference between sales and assessment. The recently released "common level ratio" shows that homes are slowly moving toward their assessed value, he said.
The ideal common level ratio would be 100 percent. That would mean that homes are selling at assessed value.
A number lower than 100 means the assessments are lower than sales prices. A number above 100 means assessments are higher than sale prices.
The most recent common level ratio listed for the year 2011 for York was 86.5 percent, up from 83.7 in 2010.
That's an indication, based on 2011 sales, that some assessments are still lower than sale prices.
When the common level ratio drops below 85 percent, the county's Board of Assessment Appeals has a resolution under which it tells commissioners to conduct a reassessment, he said.
Commissioners declined to authorize a reassessment for the past several years when the ratio was below 85.
The last reassessment took effect in 2006 and was based on sales from 2004, before the market peaked, Fedor said.
The decision: President County Commissioner Steve Chronister said the last reassessment cost about $2 million, and commissioners decided not to spend the money again.
People who feel their assessed value is unfair can appeal, he said, and he feels not reassessing was "probably the right decision because everything is getting back up with the common level ratio."
He has received calls from people asking why commissioners don't authorize a reassessment, asking whether it's because the county would lose money because homes are worth less.
The county's tax collection would decrease if its overall assessed value dropped, he said, but people don't understand the county ultimately wouldn't have to lose money.
"We can set the millage rate wherever we want," he said. "We just didn't want to spend a couple million if we didn't have to."
The county has kept its millage rate the same for the past four years, with no tax increase.
County Treasurer Barb Bair said the county tax base is growing each year even as people request lower assessments.
"It's going up, but not by much," she said. "A lot of people aren't getting the benefit of the appeal; they just pay it and don't appeal. And there has been some building."
The county's taxable assessed value has crept up each year over the past four years. It grew from $26.6 billion in 2009 to $26.8 billion for 2012, she said.
-- Reach Christina Kauffman at ckauffma n@yorkdispatch.com.

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