Unionville board to consider stronger opposition to reassessments

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Cuts in tax property value have cost the school district an estimated $6.7 million in revenue over the last three years

By Mike McGann, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com

Tax appeals are expected to cost the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District an additional $422,000 in lost revenue in the 2012-13 school year.

EAST MARLBOROUGH — Homeowners hoping to get an easy path to getting their property tax values reassessed down be warned: the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District may be getting prepared to challenge you.

Although the district has primarily sought to challenge tax reassessments on commercial properties, the revenue costs of reassessments — estimated to be as high as $6.7 million over the last three years — is driving district officials to go on the offensive. The Board of Education will formally consider such a move at next Monday’s formal board meeting.

“The reassessments were not frequent or significant until about three years ago,” said Robert Cochran, the district’s Director of Business and Operations said during Monday night’s Board of Education Finance Sub-committee meeting. But, with the fall in real estate values, property owners began appealing their assessments as being above market value.

Those appeals, which are heard by a panel appointed by the Chester County Commissioners in Chester County or by Delaware County Council in Delaware County, have approved new property values that have cut more than $500,000 each year from Chester County and more than $130,000 per year from Delaware County. Typically, the residential cases are only opposed by the county.

Although the Chester County number is estimated to drop to $422,000 in the 2012-13 tax year, it still means a roughly 1% tax increase would be needed to just to maintain the budget status quo.

Cochran noted that neighboring Kennett Consolidated School District is taking a more aggressive stance, having someone with a better sense for current local property values comb through the appeals and look for cases that appear to be out of whack with current values. Cochran suggested the district look into taking a similar approach — not opposing what appear to be appeals of excessive valuations, but looking for those property owners attempting to use the system to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.

Cochran noted that while such an aggressive stance would initially be more expensive — citing as an example, a theoretical cost of $1,000 additional to oppose a tax appeal, could result in keeping $200 in tax revenue per year, starting with the sixth year, the district would be ahead, financially.

Although the initial sense was to look into the matter further, the calendar seemed to sway board members into putting the issue on next week’s agenda, as the tax appeal season runs from the end of this month through early November.

“Time is of the essence,” Finance chair Keith Knauss said. “If we’re going to do anything about this this year, we’ll need to take action.”

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3 Comments

  1. Observing says:

    Mike: you are exactly right. It’s about paying your proportionate share. I know of some commerical properties in the district that have lowered their assessed value by 70%! I thik the Board is right to look at this issue closely.

  2. steve says:

    “but looking for those property owners attempting to use the system to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.”
    ok, but if your home’s value has dropped 20-30% as an example, and you get a reassesment, you WILL be paying your fair share…it will be less, sure, but the same tax rate. If the board ‘s majority now is for the taxpayer getting his money’s worth, then turnabout is fair play..the taxpayer should be able to decrease his taxes if his hom’es basis for taxation has dropped.
    I understand that the board is planning on a certain ammout per year for the budget and does not want that figure to drop per reassesments…but when the district received more in tax revenue than it planned, did it refund the excess to the taxpayers??? just sayin’….to imply that a homeowner looking at a reassesment is not ‘”paying his fair share”, is very one sided. This fiscal conservatism runs both ways now.

    • Mike McGann says:

      To be clear, as pointed out in the story, the district will be primarily looking for those looking to game the system, not seeking fair redress of an overvalued property.

      The fairest thing, at this point, would be a complete reassessment of all county properties, thus re-equalizing the tax base and lessening the burden on those who have not sought reassessment.

      The actual dollar amount of your assessment doesn’t really matter, relative to market value. What matters whether it falls into line with the relative assessments in the taxing district. The point is this: if you and your neighbor have similar homes, it doesn’t matter if they are assessed at $400,000 or $40,000, as long as they and the rest of the properties in the taxing district have consistent values.

      Right now, because of folks seeking to aggressively cut their valuation and little or no opposition, you have neighbors with identical homes paying vastly different amounts of taxes.

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