Will the third time be a charm for the Central Bucks School District?
For the last two years, the district has tried to stem the tide of local revenue drain by appealing the assessments of properties thought to be under-assessed. The first attempt failed when the Board of Assessment turned down every one of the district’s 130 appeals; last year’s effort was short-circuited when the district missed the filing deadline.
This year, with a less-ambitious list of properties targeted and a better understanding of the rules, district officials are confident they will be more successful.
On Tuesday night, the board voted 7-2 to appeal the assessments of 44 residential properties that could bring at least $4,000 each in additional revenue, if successful.
Many of the properties are in Doylestown Borough, a fact which prompted longtime board member Geri McMullin, who represents the area, to vote against the move.
District officials estimate the challenges could bring in about $200,000, just a small percentage of the $6 million a year it loses to appeals that reduce property assessments.
A property’s assessment is used to determine school district, county and municipal tax bills. The assessed value is multiplied by the millage rate to calculate the amount of tax due.
Over the last few years, the district has lost significant revenue because property owners have successfully reduced their assessments due to the overall slump in housing prices.
The district aims to recoup some of those losses by targeting older properties whose values have skyrocketed but whose tax assessments have not gone up since the last countywide reassessment in 1972.
While the move could bring much-needed revenue to the district, board members weren’t exactly doing cartwheels of happiness about taking this measure. Board President Paul Faulkner said “equal taxation” does not exist in Bucks County.
“This is not and should not be our job,” Faulkner said of seeking the higher property assessments. “Unfortunately, it’s a huge problem for us. By default, it has become our job.”
Board member Stephen Corr, who offered an amendment that raised the threshold for appeals from $2,500, was equally reluctant.
“No one wants to do this or feels good about doing this,” he said. “But we are elected to manage the school district...we have an obligation to the children to do what we have to do to fulfill our responsibilities.”
After the appeal is filed, the affected property owners will be notified by the county Board of Assessment Appeals and invited to attend a hearing. Property owners will be able to offer evidence to try to persuade the board to deny the district's appeal.
Hearings are held in October. If an assessment is changed, it will take effect for county and local municipality taxes on January 1, and the school district on July 1.
Last year, the district planned to appeal the assessments of up to 200 properties deemed to be “out of whack” with their true market value, hoping to reap about $300,000. But the administration missed an August 1 deadline because it had less than a week to prepare the appeals.
In 2010, the district tried to appeal the assessments of 130 properties, using sales data to determine market value. The Board of Assessment Appeals rejected each one, saying the district did not provide enough evidence to support its claims.
Superintendent Dr. Robert Laws said other school district around the state are waiting to see if Central Bucks is successful in getting some property assessments increased.
“We are leading the way in this,” said Laws. “We know the rules and expect the Board of assessment to be fair and responsible.”