For the first time in more than 20 years, every property in Delaware County will have a new assessment – and tax bill – by 2021, under a contract approved Wednesday by county council members.
The $6 million contract launches a court-ordered reassessment of all 200,000 parcels; state law forbids spot assessments and requires that reassessments occur countywide. The last mass appraisal in the county occurred in the late 1990s.
Property assessments are legal values established by counties, and they determine tax bills. A reassessment will distribute the tax burden more fairly, but it will also create winners and losers. Local governments cannot use reassessments to raise more money through taxes, but tax bills for some property owners could change drastically if their assigned values are currently too low or too high.
Tyler Technologies will begin working to compile data about properties in the county and communicate with property owners, said Marianne Grace, Delaware County's executive director. But it will be months before residents hear from assessors, she said.
The process could also set off reassessments in other counties. Delaware County last reassessed under court order, after a similar suit in Chester County led to a reassessment there. Montgomery County then voluntarily reassessed properties. Bucks County, however, hasn't done so since 1972.
The Delaware County court order came last year in response to a lawsuit by two county homeowners. Their lawyers proved that the taxes property owners pay compared to the fair market value of their homes varied widely across the county. Owners of new homes, for example, often pay more than some of their neighbors because their assessments were set at the time of construction while those on older homes have not changed since 2000.
An analysis of the most recently available state tax data showed that roughly 37 percent of properties in Delaware County are overassessed.
Delaware County Council also approved a contract Wednesday for a company to take aerial photographs to use in the reassessment, at a cost of $91,000. Grace said the process will include comparing aerial photographs to building permits and other existing information about properties. In some cases, she said, assessors will go door-to-door.
Property owners will receive letters from the county "saying to the homeowner, 'This is what we believe we have in your house and if you don't agree with this, this is what we have to address that,'" Grace said.
They will learn of their new assessments in 2020, and can file appeals before they are taxed on the new amount in 2021.
"It's a big process, and we want it to be open and to have communication so we come up with fair assessed values," Grace said.