County Property Tax Assessments Favor Newer Homes & Wealthier Communities

beaver-county-property-taxes

The Assessment & Tax Claim Office uses an antiquated software application to assess the values of properties in Beaver County. Newer homes are being assessed at a lower percentage of actual market value than older homes, and home owners in some of Beaver County’s wealthiest neighborhoods are paying a lower percentage of their house’s true value in property taxes than those living in some the County’s poorest communities, an investigation by the Beaver Countian has revealed.

The Assessment Office currently uses a proprietary software program written in 1982 to determine the values of all newly constructed homes in Beaver County. Information about a house’s construction, including square footage and building materials, is entered into the application which then takes into consideration the value of the land the home is sitting on (based on data from 1982) to generate an assessed value which the home’s property taxes are calculated from.

“In order to maintain uniformity we are required to use the same program to calculate the assessed values of homes built today that was used in 1982 during the last county-wide reassessment,” Chief County Assessor Michael Kohlman told the Beaver Countian. Although the antiquated software maintains uniformity, it falls far short of creating fair assessments of new properties.

Kohlman acknowledged there are large disparities between the assessments of newly constructed homes and older ones. “Homes built today have many amenities that just didn’t exist in 1982 and the software can’t take those into consideration when determining a home’s value [...] The year the house was built doesn’t make any difference either, the system thinks all houses in Beaver County were built in 1982,” said Kohlman. “Ultimately higher valued properties are treated more favorably when assessed.”

But it’s not just the year a home was constructed that can lead to disparities in assessed value, the community in which a house sits has also become a considerable factor in how favorably the software treats an assessment. Back in 1982 the J&L Steel Mill was still fully operational with land in Aliquippa at a premium (the mill shuttered in 1985), Beaver Falls was a booming business district, and the Medical Center in Brighton Township had only been open for 2 years with large swaths of land in the area still undeveloped. The software program used by the Assessment Office still calculates the values of homes based on a reality Beaver County hasn’t seen in decades.

Data obtained by the Beaver Countian from the Pennsylvania Tax Equalization Board shows the assessed value of an average home in Aliquippa is approximately 39.11% of what a buyer pays for it when it goes up for sale. In Beaver Falls the assessed value is a whopping 43.44% of what a home is actually worth in the open market. Compare those numbers to Center Township where houses have assessed values of only 26.58% of what they’re worth, or Beaver Borough where houses are assessed at just 22.5% of their actual value, and the disparities between the County’s wealthy and struggling communities become stark.

“Sales prices of homes don’t relate to assessments,” said Kohlman. Assessed values are determined solely by that bit of software programmed in 1982, leaving some of the county’s poorest residents to pay taxes on a larger percentage of their home’s market value than some of the county’s richest.

County Officials tell the Beaver Countian the only way to legally resolve that disparity would be to initiate the first county-wide reassessment in 32 years. Officials estimate the cost to the county of such an undertaking could reach $8 million.

While there may never be the political will to voluntarily take on such a task, the time may come when Beaver County is forced to reassess. Pennsylvania State Law limits tax rates for 4th Class Counties like Beaver County to 25 mills — the County’s tax rate is already set at 22 mills which hasn’t seen an increase in years. County Commissioners already concede that sooner or later a tax increase is inevitable with little room before the legally mandated cap is reached. Once that occurs, the only way to raise additional revenues will be through a reassessment.

Pennsylvania Law limits the amount of additional revenues a county can generate through a reassessment to just 5%; as the calculated property values rise, the actual millage rate paid by taxpayers would go down following a reassessment. Newer homes in wealthier neighborhoods would likely see the assessed values increase along with the total property taxes they paid, while those living in older homes in poorer neighborhoods would likely see their taxes go down.

How long it may be before Beaver County sees its next reassessment is anyone’s guess — several county officials, none of whom wanted to be quoted by name for this report, said they believe it will likely happen within this decade.

An Example Of An Older Home

This modest little home in Aliquippa was constructed in 1949 and recently sold for $37,900.00. It sits on 1/10th of an acre and has a fair market value assessed by the county of $38,500.00 — more than $600 than it actually sold for.

aliquippa-house
Imagery © Google

An Example Of New Construction

This home (belonging to the son and daughter-in-law of County Treasurer Connie Javens) in South Beaver Township sits at the end of a long private drive on a sprawling 16 acre wooded lot. It was constructed in 2010 and has a fair market value assessed by the county of just $213,200 — a fraction of what it would bring if put up for sale.

javens-1

javens-3
Imagery © Google

Percentage Of Assessed Home Value To Actual Fair Market Value
common-level-ratios
Graph by the Beaver Countian

 

33 comments

  1. This raises some questions.  Why on earth would anyone want to allow this disparity to continue?  I guess it’s obviously cheaper to tax the poor at a higher rate than the more well off because we all know that is working out real good in most parts of the modern world?

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    • And another question comes to mind.  Do they have the Commodore 64 this program runs on still working?  Or is it on an Apple II?

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  2. Another great job of reporting. Perhaps it’s time to buy some new software, and collect from those who have been getting away with this for too long.

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  3. This is one reason you see such much dilapidated stock in Quip, Beaver falls, etc. Why bother trying to rehab those homes when it is simply cheaper and more tax advantageous to buy new?

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  4. Hey that is my house! Take it off.

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  5. I would have to disagree with this article. My family recently built a new home in Brighton Twp and were assessed very high compared to older homes of similar square footage. I did extensive research and found large variances in assessment percentages between newer vs older homes. In fact there was an example of a home that recently sold for nearly twice the value of my house, but is assessed lower.

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    • You bring up a very important issue. I have also found large swings in some assessments. Many points that deviate from standard range can be found between communities, home values, and age of construction.

      I looked at trends based on large data sets which I think is necessary when examining tax policy at the county level.  From the data it seems very clear there is an assessment bias based on some of the factors outlined in the article. Anecdotally, Chief Assessor Michael Kohlman seems to have drawn the same conclusions based on his experience.

      Whether or not there are individual biases is another matter I continue to explore.  I have found anomalies involving some specific property owners which raise red flags but are not yet solid enough for me to report on.

      If you’d like to shoot me off some specific addresses to look at it may be helpful for me moving forward: JP@BeaverCountian.com

      Thanks as always for the feedback and for being a reader of the Beaver Countian!

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  6. The javens mansion is only what,,??

    Lo that is true crime

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  7. I’m looking at Chippewa properties. The more expensive the Trullia value of the property, the lower percent-wise is their assessment. And why are undeveloped properties on Third Street in Beaver assessed at practically nothing? Even some developed businesses are super low, except the church which is valued in the millions and pays no taxes.

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  8. What a joke – The whole county is a joke.

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  9. SpeakTheTruthToo

    I don’t understand how it is legal to have a tax assessment for more than the house is worth.

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  10. Why does the county have to pay $8 million for a reassessment? Aren’t most estimated values available on Zillow? Just use real estate agents and comparables for the rest and let people appeal if they don’t agree with the valuation.

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    • Zillow is NOT an accurate source of what your property would/could sell for. It usually is approximately 20% off of the market value. Just an FYI.  If you want an accurate report regarding what your home’s worth you need to contact a licensed appraiser and at the very least have a realtor draw up a CMA.   

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  11.     Good article, a cautionary word to those that would jump to the conclusion ‘the rich aren’t paying enough’.  Assessment for the purpose of determining property taxes is a math problem where the assessors start with the SUM and make the the individual variables (properties) fit.  More to the point, it is a zero SUM game, where if assessments are lowered on certain properties, it has to be made up somewhere else.  This is what happens every time someone appeals their assessment and its been a ‘dirty little secret’ where the property owner is concerned about how their property compares to others around them and the judge is concerned about maintaining the ‘tax base’.

        This is another subject where I know just enough to know I don’t know enough to form a conclusion on exactly what ought to occur.  What I do know, and I think must of us would agree, is that the current politicos in the courthouse have neither the brains, courage, skills, or motivation to tackle the very complicated process of reassessment.  We need ‘grownups’ handling this, who will hire professionals absent personal bias to essentially set a new SUM.  Reassessment is a near certain reality, and the questions we ought to be asking individually of our county officials is one of what is going to be done TO me, rather than what will be done FOR me.  

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    • eddiemerchant: Well said. 

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    • How is that complicated? You set a total goal and every property pays a fraction based on the actual value. The  complicated part is that older properties in expensive areas, mansions, and maybe businesses aren’t paying their fair share. I say take the Friendship Ridge money and reassess.
      By the way, we know the value of Friendship Ridge, we just sold it. So, what is their assessment?

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  12. I want to give a shoutout to the Beaver County Times. Here is another Beaver Countian article that you reword and report on two days from now and take credit for. Get Taube or Prose on it right away, while it is still warm. 

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  13. This article scares the hell out of me.  They’re going to come in and re-assess the homes. HOWEVER, what people don’t realize is that property taxes are going to go significantly UP across the board.  I can tell you that there is no way any assessor is EVER going to come in, review your property and say… “You’ve overpaid for the last 30 years”.  We’re going to LOWER your taxes to where they need to be.  They’re going to go up just like everyone else’s. 

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    • Not possible.  Not everyone can go up.  Some must go down(see zero sum explanation). 

      Where the biggest disparities exist are in towns like Beaver.  My home is ~20 yrs old and my taxes hover around $5000.  I’m in Brighton Township.  A home in Beaver that’s far older than the 1982 valuation date can be worth more than double my home and they will pay 1/2 the taxes.  Owning a half million dollar home and paying $2500 in taxes is criminal.

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  14. Rusty Shackleford

    Property Tax is immoral anyways. One never truly owns their property. Other forms of taxes should be established and Property Tax should be done away with.

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  15. Quite!!! I am the great and powerful Beaver County Oz! The great Oz, is calling out the two commissioners; Joe Spanik, you, sickening, sinister, shoddy, stupid, suspicious, smelly, savage. And you,Tony Amadio, you, apprehensive, avoided, awkward, afraid, abandoned, atrocious, A-Hole. How dare there be secret talks behind the great Oz’s back about property tax reassessments. You two, will be ordered back to The Lollipop Guild, where I found you, unless you complete a very important task. Immediately vote to relinquish the crown off the head of Amadio and crown Dennis Nichols as head chair of the commissioners or it’s back to Munchkin Land for you two,Tra la la la la la la! Everyone in the merry merry land of Beaver County knows; The House of Lords Castle owned by my son, Lord Mark Javens, was donated to him for his superior Lincoln Park basketball coaching skills. Lord Mark, should not pay taxes in Beaver County, because, well because, he is a relative of the great and powerful Oz, that’s why!

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    • Wrong kid Mark is the gypsy that’s getting house built, Danny is the one that allegedly shot at wife in house, Randy is the one that has a castle who is married to the former county vendor who got millions off county contracts

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  16. A Property Tax Reassessment would not be a good thing. All it will do is increase taxes for everyone.

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  17. another reason I am leaving this county as soon as possible!

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  18. You nailed it there Ryan Morrison, they just can’t wait to reassess everyone’s property. Sometimes it just doesn’t pay to report on some things JP. Get ready to write some bigger checks people. This is gonna open a big cash coffer for the county, that way they can even be more incompetent and corrupt than they already are.

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  19. Reassessment would be political suicide.  You seen what Allegheny County went through 5 years ago.

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  20. I bought my home in Beaver Falls in 1979 for $25,000 put $30,000 into it and if I tried to sale it today would only get around $30,000 if I was lucky. And we pay some of the highest tax’s.

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  21. @ottavani another reason leaving county soon as possible? @norman this isn’t the county commissioners wanting reassessment? They haven’t for years and won’t want too. Why? Cause it will affect them too.

    Where and how is this happening?

    Clues….. Developers ahhh that have lot of river front PROPERTY, couldn’t get democrats to do it for over a decade. Now has wide eye young REPUBLICAN in back pocket. With a few other lower soldiers in business world pushing, because it saves hundreds of thousands of dollars per for themselves

    KOZ and lerta where tax breaks some properties paying nothing, in the hopes of getting developments in future, WELL THE POOR TOWNS NEEDED TO GAMBLE TO GET IN DEVELOPMENTS , remember the ohh maybe casino on the river, hotels, business parks,all good ideas , the tax breaks would be attractive so big companies come in…

    Well TIME HAS COME AND GONE….. only thing that’s went in any of the 12 miles between MONACA AND SOUTH HEIGHTS , WAS a county jail , gypsum plant and a methadone clinic… BUT THAT DEVELOPER SAVED ROUGHLY FEW MILLION IN TAXES, and those agreements are coming to and end soon, and he getting antsy cause he hasn’t attracted business to it, and little republican state rep tried to push cracker plant to west aliquippa, and that failed… tick tock tick tock….. Times is running out

    Reassessment could be death blow to towns…… BEAVER property whewwww weee they would be paying some cash, just call your local state rep and bitch ask him,

    You people cry on here, your school taxes keep climbing every year, why it’s not teacher contracts and utilities that’s always been budgeted and every few years you understand, we don’t like it but know a mill here or there it’s goes up. But last seven years it’s been jumping why? Cyber school which im fine with, just every time Judd signs up the district loses 12 to 15k , mister state representative doesn’t have anyone look into that? Why not help the schools and homeowners? Why simple he collects big money from other side in campaign coffer and funnels to other PACs and currently being looked into because of it.

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    • FYI, that developer wised up and put his money where he’d see a return in his investments. Ya all took the money and some peeved that money ain’t bulging  from their back pockets anymore. Just be happy crumbs still come.  

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    • when you pay top bucks for political whores you expect those whores to work hard for their money, wouldn’t you? When swinging swags landing on runways to drink and eat on a 250 buck meal ticket, you’d think they’d even lie a little to make you feel better. Developers and pimps wise up and roll their dice down table with better odds with stupid players.

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  22. Maybe someone running on a reassessment agenda would be a good way to get Midland, Beaver Falls, and Aliquippa Democrats out to the ballots. After looking at the tax rolls, a significant amount of commercial property is clearly under-taxed. Corporate welfare alive and well in Beaver County.

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  23. Michealle Frey

    In Texas every single piece of property was assessed EVERY THREE YEARS. Did my taxes sometimes go up? Yep. Did the tax rates of the people in areas that had declined go down? Yep. Was everyone’s house evaluated with the most up to date figures? Yep. Sometimes it worked out for us, sometimes it didn’t, but at least when I bought a house I was paying roughly the same as the people who lived next door. Even if they had owned it for twenty years.

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