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Court Ruling May Lead to More Revaluations in Pennsylvania

by Tom Branham, Washington D.C., May 2017

 

Delaware County, Pennsylvania is under court order to conduct its first countywide reassessment in 17 years. Common Pleas Court Judge Charles B. Burr ordered all 200,000 commercial and residential properties to be revalued following a lawsuit charging a lack of uniformity in the county's valuation system.

 

Officials wonder if the ruling sets a precedent that will require other counties to also conduct reassessments.

 

Older Versus Newer Construction

 

Judge Burr's brief said Delaware County violated the state's uniformity clause with wildly differing assessments on older and newer construction of homes.

 

The uniformity clause in the Pennsylvania Constitution requires that taxes be uniform on the same class of property in the same locale. The state allows counties to either adopt an annual valuation method, or a base method of property assessment to levy taxes.

 

Delaware County uses the base method, which uses a given property's base-year assessment in 1998 as the basis for taxes in subsequent years.

 

Will More Counties Reassess?

 

Countywide reassessments are expensive, labor-intensive, and likely to set off mass appeals so counties historically have been reluctant to undertake them.

 

Before the court order in Delaware County, a similar lawsuit was filed in Chester County and the judge also ordered a reassessment in 1996. Montgomery County voluntarily conducted a reassessment in 1996. Bucks County hasn’t done one since 1972.

 

What Happens Now in Delaware?

 

Property owners will see a much different assessment procedure than the one that was conducted in the late 1990s. That reassessment was the first ever conducted by the county and at that time, assessors were required to visit and inspect every single property. Since then, the Delaware County Board of Assessment has maintained computer-aided mass appraisal software to track property values.

 

The reassessment won't raise property taxes for all owners, according to Delaware County Executive Director Marianna Grace. "It's important for all property owners to realize that reassessment does not necessarily equate to a property tax increase," Grace said. "The law prevents a local municipality, a school district, or a county government from gaining a tax windfall."

 

Officials say the reassessment process will take time and should begin later this year. The county will need to notify taxpayers of their new values so appeals can then be filed for inaccurate assessments. Taxes will be due based on the new values in 2021.