by Wendi Medashefski
Luzerne County, PA hasn’t reassessed their 160,000 parcels since 1965. Reason would have us believe that it would improve the county by way of bringing more tax dollars into use, thereby providing more funding for services. Logic does not always prevail in what residents dub “Hazard County.”
21st Century Appraisals (not affiliated with Century 21 real estate), run by Tim Barr, was hired at $8 million to conduct a fair and balanced countywide reassessment. The same company was hired to conduct Tioga County’s reassessment for $140,000 for 27,000 parcels. Tioga County commissioners put an indefinite halt to their project after 250 citizens stormed the courthouse to protest their inaccurate values earlier this month.
Luzerne County has been facing similar issues. Homeowners have been posting on various newspaper websites about their experiences. The most common complaints are that their land value is too high, there’s no consistency to the values, and certified appraisals show values to be much lower than 21st Century thinks they are.
On Monday, the Standard Speaker ran an ad touting a “Reassessment Meeting” at Hazleton City Hall for Tuesday night. When we arrived, 127 people had packed into a sweltering meeting room, balcony, and lobby. (Note – the Speaker said 75 people, but I did my own headcount.) As the meeting came to order, Joseph Yannuzzi apologized because there was no reassessment discussion planned for that evening. He said whoever placed the ad was wrong. When one brave citizen, Helen Jumpeter, said she had placed the ads, Mr. Yannuzzi yelled at her, “You had NO right! This is a city council meeting and will be conducted as such.” At this, some residents left, but most stayed, after hearing that the council would try to make time to listen to the residents after the regular session.
While waiting for council to do complete their agenda, I went and talked to some property owners about their reassessments, and was informed about how inaccurate 21st Century Appraisals had been.
Pat Berki owns a double-wide trailer in a development. Her assessment showed that her home value increased, and her land value decreased. HUH?? Mobile homes don’t appreciate value, and land doesn’t depreciate. Ms. Berki attended an informal hearing, at which time her total assessment value was increased again. “If they can’t assess pre-built homes right, how the hell can they get the rest of them right?”
Berki is not alone. Another concerned citizen, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retribution, told me about her sister’s home in Hazle Township. The assessed value came to $58,000, when my source said the home and land aren’t worth more than $25,000 because it needs a lot of maintenance work. The homeowner lives on SSI, slightly over $600 a month. She fears her sister will lose her home because she cannot afford to pay an unfairly and unrealistically inflated tax.
“Hazard County” is not new to scandal. Luzerne County commissioner Greg Skrepenak was recently involved in backdoor dealings with the prison. State law requires bidding for anything that will cost over a certain amount. Skrep made sure his good buddies got the contracts for prison supplies by piece-mealing the bills. Commissioner Maryanne Petrilla was the county solicitor during the debit card scandal late last year. Several county employees used their government-supplied debit cards to pay for personal business, including, but not limited to, “mistaking” the debit card for a personal credit card in a Las Vegas strip club. It was her job to make sure receipts were turned in for those cards. Commissioner Stephen Urban often publicizes the infighting between himself, Skrep and Petrilla, which is very unprofessional and, well, annoying.
As I am writing this, 21st Century Appraisals sent a letter to the Times Leader regarding their shoddy reassessment job. Through all the fluff and protestations of what a great job they did, they took the time to bash the county property owners.. “I feel a need to summarize the objectives and state the process from a 30,000-foot view as opposed to a view from the trenches.” Really? I am certain that We, the People, are not viewing anything from the trenches. Rather, we are being realistic and trying to find solutions to the problem. Thanks for insulting our intelligence.
“… at this point the commissioners should support 21st Century Appraisals, the Assessment Office staff, and the Board of Assessment Appeals to finish their job and evaluate the final product in November.” Of course they want the commissioners to allow them to finish the job. I wouldn’t want to give up $8 million either!!
In response to this crisis, Voice of the People USA has decided to get involved. When asked a question about being an anti-illegal immigration group, President Dan Smeriglio said “We are not a one-issue group. We are ‘the voice of the people,’ representing our fellow citizens when the elected officials forget who they work for.” Great!! So, what’s the plan?
A protest at the Luzerne County courthouse on July 28 at 2pm, intended to get the attention of those who can hit the reassessment brakes. At the very least, the commissioners should halt the whole thing until all the gross errors are fixed, and then they can make decisions on what to do next.
|“A nation can survive its fools and even the ambitious, but it cannot survive treason from within.” ~ Cicero
|“Lord, Keep your arm around my shoulder and your hand over my mouth.” ~ Anonymous|