Express Times tells us that, in a unanimous vote on Wednesday night, Lehigh County Commissioners ignored Executive Don Cunningham's advice and decided to forge ahead with its first County-wide reassessment since 1991. Cunningham favored waiting a year.
Was it the right call?
Vice Chairman Scott Ott thinks so, and so does every single Commissioner, both Republican and Democrat. In a news release, Ott points out that there were over 700 assessment appeals in 2010. And although he does not say this, municipal bodies almost always end up on the short end of a property tax challenge. What Ott does say is that, since 2007, Lehigh County municipalities may have lost as much as $50 million in revenue, forcing them to raise taxes.
"The reality is that reassessment is already happening," claims Ott, "but only for the few who have the knowledge and resources to challenge their assessments, mostly businesses."
So far, the County has spent $305,000 for the reassessment process.
But Executive Don Cunningham, like John Stoffa in Northampton County, thinks the County should wait a year or so until the market settles down. In a telephone conversation late yesterday, he told me he will veto the Ordinance. "I'm greatly concerned about it and its impact on a lot of regular folks," he worries, noting that assessments could change dramatically for older homes.
"We have entire streets in Allentown valued at $50,000-60,000, that are now selling for $10-15,000. What value do we assign? $50,000? $15,000? This is a nightmare time to affix a value."
I have long advocated the need for reassessment. So did Executive John Stoffa. But in 2009, as a result of the slumping economy, he changed his mind. At that time, his Fiscal Affairs Director, Vic Mazziotti, stated that the real estate market is so volatile that it would be difficult to find comparable home prices. But Vic was always bothered by those incessant assessment appeals, which do favor those with the means to mount a challenge. As a recently elected Commissioner, he believes the best time to reassess is now.
Despite the unanimous vote that includes members of his own party, Cunningham wonders whether there are political motives behind this sudden urgency.
"They want to show they're in charge. But this is not the right issue on which to stake out that ground," he noted.
Ironically, despite their differing views, both Cunningham and Ott are concerned most about homeowners with limited means.
That's a good thing.