Andrew Wetzel's Musings

July 16, 2020

Delaware County Residential Property Reassessment 2020

On July 1, 2020, property owners in Delaware County PA were mailed letters advising them of their new “assessed values” to be used starting with the 2021 tax year.  This began the formal tax appeal process.  I have heard from many, especially on social media, concerned that their taxes may skyrocket given how much their “assessed value” had risen.  I empathize and ask people to remain calm.  There are additional steps to follow.

Taxation has ALWAYS been a point of contention for Americans going back to our founding.  However, I am finding that, with the combination of the pandemic, social protests, the economy and the upcoming election, some may not have been paying much attention as the reassessment process moved forward and they are now shocked as it starts to “get real”.  Reading both sides of the mailing should provide some comfort but many focus only on their assessed value and what it could mean.  Let me provide some background.  There is ample information available for anyone who wants to learn more and now is certainly the time to get engaged with the process.

Delaware County was last reassessed in 2002.  That was a major undertaking.  The current process seems easier because the information is more current and technology has improved.  There are over 203,000 parcels to assess so every property could not be visited.  Property owners have had two opportunities to appeal the new valuation.

The reassessment was court-ordered after two families filed lawsuits alleging that the system of determining assessments was not fair.  As a REALTOR I am very familiar with the complexity of trying to be uniform in determining assessments, especially across municipalities and with respect to new construction.  The judge ruled that assessments were so inconsistent that they violated the state constitution.  Property taxes are an “ad valorem” tax, meaning that they should be uniformly levied in proportion to property value.  The goal was to make the process more transparent by using “market value”, while specifically preventing a tax windfall to the County.  That is unlike what happened in Philadelphia and differs from what happened in the County in 2002.

Several steps were taken to determine a property’s value as of July 2019.  Owners were mailed initial paperwork to review to see if the County “knew” what they actually owned.  There was an “appeal” process if there was a disparity.  Now that the “final” values have been mailed there is a second, formal “appeal” process.   The last day to appeal is September 1 with all appeal hearings to be concluded no later than October 31 so that the new assessment rolls can be certified no later than November 15.  Only then can they can determine the millage and the actual taxes.

The “burden of proof” rests with the property owner to provide competent and credible evidence that their valuation is incorrect.  An appraisal is not required but can be very helpful as far as meeting the “burden of proof” standard necessary and an owner may wish to hire an attorney.  Absent an appeal, or if someone does not report for their hearing, the assessor’s value is presumed correct.   I have heard some say that they do not feel comfortable with the appeal process and I can appreciate that but that is how the system works.  Facts, not presentation skills, will determine the outcome.  If your value “appears” reasonable, you may decide to do nothing.  That is your choice.

The goal is to arrive at a County-wide assessment total.  Once that is established, the County will need to link that with their budget by determining the “millage”.  Only then will individual property owners have the opportunity to know their tax liability.  NOTE:  this article pertains only to residential properties.  While all parcels are part of the process, valuing non-residential properties follows different guidelines.

Two final points.  First, the new assessment is based on market value which explains why it “rose”.  The last assessment was based more on generalities such as square footage meaning that two similar properties could be assessed and taxed similarly even though one was “distressed”.  I have seen that in my Real Estate business.

Second, appeals are permitted every year based on an advertised schedule.  If a property owner misses an opportunity they will have another one but will risk overpaying until then.  I respectfully encourage everyone to remain patient, follow the deadlines and let the process play out.

There is no time for inexperience, empty promises or false expectations!

HIRE WISELY:  We are not all the same!

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