Delaware County property owners have been hearing for three years that changes were likely to be coming to their tax bills. Now, the county is giving them the new property assessments that will be used to calculate future taxes.
Following a lawsuit and a 2017 court ruling that found inequities in the county’s property assessments, the county had to reassess its more than 200,000 parcels for the first time in two decades. A 2017 Inquirer analysis found that only about 30% of properties in the county were assessed reasonably accurately.
“There are people paying other people’s taxes right now,” Paul Miller, senior account executive at Tyler Technologies, the company that did the reassessments, told a room full of property owners at a public meeting Tuesday afternoon. “The unfair situation is that right now, people are paying the wrong taxes, and we’re going to correct that, and I feel good about that.”
Property owners started to receive their new assessments this month, and the mailings will continue through March. New values will take effect next year.
At the Tuesday afternoon meeting, residents wanted to know whether their tax bills would go up or down, a question without an answer until assessments are finalized and counties, municipalities, and school districts set their budgets and millage rates in late December or early January.
Reassessments generally result in a third of property owners paying less in taxes, a third paying more, and a third paying about the same, according to Miller and other experts.
Changes in tax bills usually aren’t as dramatic as people anticipate, he said.
Making sure an assessment is accurate is “the only way you can control your taxes,” Miller said. He encouraged residents questioning an assessment to sign up for a review meeting with staff.
The new assessments should represent 100% of the July 1, 2019, fair market values of properties in the county.
Local governments legally cannot use reassessments to raise revenue, so the county, municipalities, and school districts must adjust their tax rates for next year so they don’t pull in more money.
Countywide reassessments are politically unpopular and expensive. Delaware County Council paid Tyler Technologies $6 million to reassess properties, which included comparing homes to ones sold in their area in the last few years and examining street level and aerial photos of properties. The last countywide reassessments in Delaware, Montgomery, and Chester Counties took place in the late 1990s. Bucks County’s last countywide reassessment was in 1972.
The longer properties go without being assessed, the more off-kilter their assessments become, as the market changes and properties appreciate at different rates. The county’s job, said County Council member Christine Reuther, is to make sure “it’s apples to apples again,” based on what properties would sell for on the same base date.
Informal assessment reviews with Tyler Technologies staff will occur from early March to mid-May.
The question to ask, Miller told residents, is: “Would I, could I, be able to sell my house at this price?”
Tyler Technologies will submit updated assessments to the county in June, and the county will notify property owners in July. Property owners can then formally appeal to the county’s Tax Assessment Appeals Board free if they think their assessments are incorrect.
Meg Barney, a retired public school teacher in her 60s, hasn’t gotten her reassessment notice yet and doesn’t know what to expect.
“You’ve seen housing booms and busts” over the last 20 years, said Barney, of Media. “There’s lots of shifting.”
She has been living in the county for almost 40 years, so was around for the last countywide reassessment, but she doesn’t remember much about it. She’s hoping for the best this time. She went to the Tuesday afternoon meeting to avoid the possibility of getting inaccurate information through rumors.
“The more information you have,” Barney said, “the more you’re not afraid this is happening.”