Tempers seem to have cooled a bit on the ongoing property tax reassessment happening here in Schuylkill County.
During the Primary season, you had candidates running for the Republican Party nomination who said they’ll fight it every inch of the way.
Now, closer to the General Election, you’re finding a simmering on that stance, almost an acceptance. In fact, at the recent Schuylkill County Commissioners candidate debate, some even suggested we do MORE property tax reassessments.
They provided reasons why that should be happening, too.
Schuylkill County Commissioners Debate: Property Tax Reassessment
Here’s how each of the candidate’s answered the question on property tax reassessment:
Woll: Reassessments Every 4-5 Years
Libertarian Greg Woll said something no one else really said on stage during the debate.
He believes there should be more property tax reassessments. Leaving this go for as long as it has is “a failure of the Commissioners and the (state) legislatures for the last 30 years.”
Now, while the prevailing opinion among those loudest about the ongoing reassessment is that it shouldn’t be happening at all, this take is certainly different.
Woll explained why he believes this.
“The smartest and most economic thing we can do is do one every 4-5 years. That would have kept the County on a consistent knowledge of where our properties are,” Woll said. “This would help new businesses coming into the area. They would have a better idea of what the properties looked like, that they want to purchase.”
That’s a reference to the current situation at the Schuylkill County Map Viewer tool. It is most likely to show viewers what the properties looked like in 1995, the last time Schuylkill County performed a property tax reassessment.
“Right now, if you go to look at property, it’s 1996 values and 1995 pictures,” Woll said. “You have no idea what you’re buying.”
He also said the County Commissioners should hold Vision Government Services to its word that one-third of properties will see a rise in taxes, one-third will see them fall, and the other third will see them hold steady. If not, he said we shouldn’t certify the results.
Anczarski-Baldino: Commissioners Failed to Make the Tough Decision on Reassessment for Years
Democrat candidate Anczarski-Baldino says she would have voted in favor of the reassessment, if she had been Commissioner at the time.
She, like Woll, said the Commissioners should have called for a reassessment sooner.
“This is a classic example of government pushing the can down the road and not making the tough decisions. I agree (with Woll), reassessment needs to occur in some kind of cyclical process,” she said.
She believes the current board of Commissioners made the right decision to go with Vision Government Solutions because their software solution, in the end, would allow the County to do future assessments (in 8-10 years, she said) more seamlessly.
“Should I be a seated Commissioner, I’d be leaving it in a better place for the next team to do a reassessment,” Anczarski-Baldino said. “No one likes taxes to go up, but I do think the seated Commissioners made the right decision. You can fight things for a period of time, but why put yourself in a position to have to fight in the first place? Just make the tough decisions that you’re elected to make.”
Padora: Make Sure Process is Transparent and Fair
Republican Larry Padora once said he would vote against certifying the reassessment but has since cooled his heels a bit on that stance taken before the Primary. He said at the debate, “The Commissioners agreed to settle a lawsuit, so the best thing we can do now is to make sure the process is transparent and is fair as possible to everybody in the county.
“I will never be a fan of it and I’ll be there at every step to make sure that it’s transparent and that people have a fair opportunity with this reassessment.”
Padora says he and fellow Republican candidate (and current Commissioner) Boots Hetherington have discussed the idea of an added step for anyone not happy with their informal appeal, should they take that step after getting the results of the reassessment on their property.
He wants to create an additional step in which taxpayers could have another appeal that includes an ombudsman from the County present at that stage.
Padora blamed state legislators for allowing a process that gives “3 people” the right to sue the County government that ended up forcing Schuylkill’s current reassessment.
“I think we have to take a long hard look at the legislation to advocate for a change in how this is done,” he said.
Hess: We Tried to Avoid Reassessment
Incumbent Democrat Gary Hess was one of two on stage during the debate (Hetherington) that actually voted to conduct the reassessment. He explained, as the Commissioners have since the process started, that their hands were essentially tied on the matter.
The County hired a consultant during the lawsuit that brought it on and was told they’d lose if they continued to fight in court.
Hess addressed criticism that Vision Government Services wasn’t properly scrutinized prior to the County hiring it to conduct the reassessment.
“They were absolutely vetted,” Hess said, indicating the County had assembled a task force before beginning the process. “There was about 6 people on that board. Three companies were vetted.”
The incumbent also defended the need for a reassessment. He explained that, as it stands, there’s an uneven playing field with property taxes. Hess said on the same street, “one guy is paying $1,000 and one guy is paying $500,” essentially on the same property value.
“What it does is bring fairness,” he said. “Absolutely, through the whole process, we’ll be sure it’s fair to everybody.”
Hetherington: Spot Reassessments Cause Unfair Tax Environment
Both Hess and Hetherington each said they didn’t “wake up one day” and decide the County needed to undergo a property tax reassessment.
He explained how the reassessment will affect him personally. Hetherington said he faces a “three-way whammy” because he owns a house, farm buildings, and farmland.
The incumbent Republican Hetherington placed a lot of the blame for the “unfair” taxes that Hess referenced on local school districts calling for “spot assessments” on properties.
“One of the big problems we have – and not to point fingers – our school districts with spot reassessments. Our townships don’t do that. Boroughs don’t do that. The County doesn’t do that,” he said. “Our job as Commissioners is to create fairness.”
Hetherington also put some blame on the state government, saying they need to look at some alternatives to the property tax, like with sales tax or income tax, to “take the burden off the homeowners.”
Watch the Debate
Here’s video of each candidate for Schuylkill County Commissioner answering the question on property tax reassessment in full: