February 15th, 2013 by admin
Alexander Caramanica was surprised to find a letter in the mail on Sept. 21 that said he would have an assessment appeal hearing on Oct. 11.
“I wasn’t sure what it was. The first thing I thought was, ‘I didn’t appeal anything,’ ” Caramanica said. “It didn’t say who was asking for the assessment.”
Caramanica went to the Bucks County Courthouse the following Monday. That’s where he learned that the Central Bucks School District was appealing the assessed value of his Buckingham home — and 36 other homes across the school district.
The other 36 homeowners likely were similarly surprised and possibly perplexed.
“I’m a little bit confused about the whole process. I still don’t know exactly how they picked my house as opposed to somebody else’s house,” said Mike Peralta, the owner of a Doylestown home that school district staff say is underassessed.
“How did they come up with the 37?”
Kurt Krause, the owner of a Doylestown Township home that school district staff say is underassessed, said he thinks he and the other property owners are “being singled out unfairly.”
Central Bucks had an outside firm look at the assessed values and sale prices of every home in the school district. The firm determined which properties were underassessed and how much revenue the school district could gain if it appealed the assessments of each of those properties. The firm assigned a number to each property and presented the data to the school board without names or addresses attached. The school board decided in February to appeal only those properties it thought it could get $4,000 in property tax revenue from each year. The list included 37 homes in Buckingham, Doylestown, Doylestown Township, New Britain Township and Plumstead.
The school board had the firm do appraisals and gather information about comparable homes. Even though the final results showed that only 11 of the properties each would bring in more than $4,000 in property taxes annually, district officials decided to continue with the appeals.
School board President Paul Faulkner said early in September that the school board would not withdraw the appeals because it already had made an investment in them.
Central Bucks also is appealing the assessments of seven commercial properties in Warrington.
District officials could gain as much as $767,234.22 if they win the appeals.
Faulkner said he understands that some property owners might feel the assessment appeals are unfair.
But, he said, “I don’t know that taking money from our kids and their education without doing something about those that aren’t paying their fair share is fair either.”
One property in Doylestown currently is assessed at $47,040. But the district’s data says it is worth $925,000 and should be assessed at $100,085. If the district’s data is right, the property owner is paying about $6,500 less in taxes than he should.
“The whole concept here is what our country was built on, which is fair and equitable taxation for all,” Faulkner said. “Everybody should be paying their fair share.”
Faulkner said the district is struggling for income.
“We don’t have the ability to increase our funding beyond the state limits, which is not keeping pace with the decline in real estate taxes. We can’t just go raise our prices. We can’t just sell more stuff like a business can. We rely on real estate taxes, which is a model we’ve been handed. We didn’t create it,” Faulkner said.
Scott Nichols, the owner of a Doylestown home that school district staff say is underassessed, said he’s talked to some of the other 36 property owners and “Nobody I have heard from objects to paying their fair share of taxes.”
“We do object to paying more than our fair share of taxes because the assessment system is broken and has been for years,” he said. “There are plenty of people in Bucks County with less valuable homes who will be paying more than half as much as I will be.”
Nick Molloy, a realtor and the owner of a Doylestown property that school district staff say is underassessed, said he thinks the assessment appeals are unfair unless the school district looks at a whole municipality.
Many of the property owners plan to fight the appeals. Several said they think they have not been given a fair opportunity to prepare their cases.
The school district has “had a year to come up with this appraisal of people’s homes,” Caramanica said. “We’re given less than two weeks? And then we’re given five minutes to discuss this with the Board of Assessment?”
The owners of all 37 residential properties and seven commercial properties are scheduled to have assessment appeals hearings with one member of the Bucks County Board of Assessment on Oct. 11. Each hearing is scheduled to last five minutes. The Board of Assessment will discuss the hearings at the next full meeting of the board and render a decision.
Nichols said he thinks county officials should step in and stop the assessment appeals, and then fix the problem by doing a county-wide reassessment.