W-B Council Candidates Address County Property Assessments
Thirteen candidates are vying for a seat on Wilkes-Barre City Council. The Citizens’ Voice identified three pressing issues facing city council and we asked the same question to each candidate.
Question two appears today and question three runs Wednesday. Question one appeared Monday.
Wilkes-Barre is the only municipality in Luzerne County that did not adopt the county’s new assessed property values after a countywide reassessment in 2008. Spot comparisons by The Citizens’ Voice of some homes on the same street in Wilkes-Barre showed that some residents’ property taxes are significantly higher than they would be if county assessment values were assigned to them, while others’ are significantly lower.
Should Wilkes-Barre sometime in the next four years adopt the assessed values of properties as determined by the county assessor’s office?
•Mike Belusko (Incumbent, Democrat, District A)
“The question on adopting the Luzerne County Property Assessment has been researched and visited recently. A randomly selected set of Wilkes-Barre properties were applied the county’s assessment. The results showed me that applying the said assessment would increase some property owners’ taxes — mainly on our senior citizens’ properties. Although this would increase revenue for Wilkes-Barre, I feel our senior citizens can not afford this added burden.”
• Tony Brooks (Incumbent, Republican, District B)
“Implementation of legislative policy should be grounded in planning and data. At the same time the government should strive toward fairness — the quality of making judgments that are free from discrimination. The current city’s assessment policy over the years has created a situation where some properties are overvalued, and many are exceedingly undervalued resulting in an unfair system. We should work toward a fairer assessment policy over time but properly plan a new policy that ensures that our most vulnerable citizens, longtime senior citizen property owners, are not adversely affected. In 2016 the city randomly selected 10 properties and found that all would have substantial increases in their residential property taxes while commercial properties would decrease. Both are unfair but the inaccuracies and inequities of the past are not the fault of the taxpayer but government, and to immediately adopt the Luzerne County assessment would punish those that are most vulnerable.”
• Mark Shaffer (Democrat, District B)
“Yes, Wilkes-Barre should adopt the Luzerne County assessment. As outlined in a previous editorial in The Citizens’ Voice, analysis of the county’s assessment values has found near 100% match to sales values since the 2009 assessment; scoring 98%, 97%, 96%, 98%, and 94% the last five years, indicating that the county’s assessment have been just slightly under the market value of the properties for the last five years
Adopting the county’s reassessment would also eliminate duplication of services. Currently the county and the city are both doing the same task. Meanwhile every other municipality in the county utilizes Luzerne County’s assessment.
Adopting the assessment may result in some paying higher taxes due to higher assessment values, but others may find lower assessment values decreasing their taxes. The assessments being just under the market value since the re-assessment should alleviate some concerns about a massive tax increase.”
• Eugene Wallace (Democrat, District B)
“Not too sure about this one. Have to learn more about it.”
• Harry Cropp (Democrat, District B)
“No. I would keep the property assessment up to the city of Wilkes-Barre.”
•Beth Gilbert (Incumbent, Democrat, District C)
“Wilkes-Barre has one of the highest tax rates in the county. If adopting the assessed values of properties as determined by the Luzerne County Assessor’s Office did not result in higher taxes for our residents, then I would be in favor of it. If these numbers, however, meant that residents would pay more in taxes, then I could not justify adopting these values. I have voted against every tax and fee increase as a councilwoman, and I vow to continue to be an advocate for our taxpayers.”
• Linda Rowe (Democrat, District C)
“Consideration of the Luzerne County Assessment is not out of the question in the future, however I do not believe it should be adopted at this time. According to examples that were provided to council, the potential impact was determined to increase tax burden on residents and decrease it on commercial properties. While I encourage commercial growth, protecting our residential tax base should be our first priority.
Additionally, according to the county assessor’s office, the county receives approximately 1,500 appeals a year and 95-99% are approved in favor of those appealing the case. By transferring to the county assessment, we will not only potentially wrongly redistribute tax burden, but also open ourselves to an overloaded appeals process that may require additional staffing, which means increased costs, in the end, to be overturned in favor of the lower tax rate.”
• Jeff Thomas (Democrat, District C)
“Wilkes-Barre City should not adopt assessed values of properties by Luzerne County without doing a comprehensive analysis of how those values would affect property owners in the city. We must continue to assure our residents that the cost of living will not increase. We must all make sure that the elderly do not lose their homes based on these new values. As we saw, the reassessment in Luzerne County was not perfect. Therefore, we should not adopt their values without thoroughly examining the methods they used to arrive at those new assessed values.”
• Bill Barrett (Incumbent, Democrat, District D)
“I strongly believe, for many years, that the city needs and should adopt the Luzerne County assessment figures. Adopting the county assessment numbers would not be for the purpose of increasing tax revenue, but rather for the purpose of ensuring that all property owners’ city taxes are based on the true assessed property value. Most property values have not been properly valued for decades, with changes only occurring if the property is sold or major renovations are made. After the 2008 county reassessment, it has been shown that school and county taxes increased on about a third of undervalued properties, a third stayed about the same and a third of property owners saw their taxes increase as their property values had not changed for decades. It’s time to move forward with a fair method of computing city taxes for all property owners.
• Ryan Verdekal (Republican, District D)
“Unless the job market in Luzerne County booms in the next four years with high-paying jobs, I’m not for it. Now is not the time for hitting residents with higher taxes while owners of commercial properties would likely pay less.”
• John Marconi (Democrat, District E)
“No, I think homeowners are paying enough for everything now. Residents can not afford to be paying more. Maybe look into some type of study to help identify the differences between the city and the county assessed values.”
• Jessica McClay (Democrat, District E)
“I believe that the city of Wilkes-Barre has looked at adopting this and the outcome was that this would cause an increase to property owners. Based on this I would not recommend adopting Luzerne County’s assessment. I acknowledge that we need an updated assessment, or reassessment, but there needs to be a way to do this without causing an increase to every residential property owner in the city.”
• Tony C. Thomas (Democrat, District E)
“I believe that city council should work together to create a committee to study property reassessment in Wilkes-Barre. With the controversies concerning the 2008 Luzerne County reassessment, the best course of action is for Wilkes-Barre to take lead and use a committee of professionals and experts to study the issue of reassessment. The process needs to be open and transparent. The conclusion of the study must also be open to public comment. Wilkes-Barre cannot rush into a decision on reassessment that will negatively impact property owners.”