Luzerne County’s assessed values still accurate, new figure concludes

By Jennifer Learn-Andes -
Swetz -

At this time a decade ago, many Luzerne County property owners were struggling to absorb and contest new values assigned as part of the 2009 reassessment.

The first mass revaluation since 1965 crunched four years of sales data to calculate the worth of more than 165,000 parcels on the fixed date of Jan. 2, 2008. Assessment challenges have led to thousands of value adjustments, most reductions, since then.

How are the assessments holding up?

An annual state measurement has once again granted the county a near-perfect score, concluding its assessments are the third most accurate among the state’s 67 counties.

The ideal number for this “common level ratio” is 100 percent, which would mean purchase prices are mirroring assessed values.

The county’s score: 101.7 percent.

Only two other counties came closer to 100 — Philadelphia, at 98.7 percent, and Blair, with a ratio of 99.6 percent.

Philadelphia had launched a reassessment it called an “actual value initiative” in 2014, and Blair’s reassessment took effect last year.

To come up with Luzerne County’s ratio, the State Tax Equalization Board compared assessments to purchase prices in 10,617 transactions that occurred in 2017, according to the county assessor’s office.

County Budget/Finance Division Head Brian Swetz said the ratio indicates the values are holding up overall.

“I think it also shows the appeal process is working,” Swetz said.

Property owners who believe their values are off and don’t want to wait until the next reassessment can file assessment appeals annually. The annual appeal deadline is Aug. 1, and any reductions take effect the following year.

A few school districts also have successfully pursued “reverse appeals” arguing that properties were valued too low.

County officials have not honored a resolution passed by prior county commissioners calling for future in-house reassessments every four years to prevent the values from getting stale. The cost of the next reassessment has been estimated at $2 million.

Anthony Alu, the county’s assessment director, has argued against another mass revaluation of all properties until the ratio strays outside a range of 85 to 115.

Swetz said he will present the option to county council during his 2019 budget presentation this fall.

“The numbers are good, but I think we should at least discuss if they want to do another reassessment due to the amount of time that has passed,” Swetz said.

The county’s ratio of 101.7 percent means properties predominantly sold at prices 1.7 percent below assessments last year.

In comparison, ratios under 100 indicate sales prices are landing above assessed values.

The county’s ratio has zigzagged over the last decade, starting at 99.7 percent and climbing as high as 109.9 percent in 2013. Last year’s ratio was 103.1 percent.

Seven counties had ratios below 20 percent this year — an indication property owners are assessed significantly below market value — including neighboring Lackawanna, at 15.3 percent, state records show. The others: Bucks, 10.4 percent; Butler, 10.6 percent; Franklin, 12.3 percent; Juniata and Westmoreland, 16.3 percent; and Snyder, 16.4 percent.


By Jennifer Learn-Andes

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.