If you own property in Beaver County you may have gotten a letter from the Beaver County Board of Assessment. If you haven’t gotten yours yet, you will soon.
The much-anticipated correspondence reveals the county’s tentative reassessed value of your property. You’ll see this magic number – labeled “tentative value” – at the very bottom of the letter.
To add insult to injury, perhaps, there is no explanation of what a “tentative value” is defined as, and county officials are taking some heat over it. Phone lines are jammed and social media is abuzz. County Commissioner Chairman Dan Camp posted about the confusion today hours after receiving calls from BeaverCountian.com and conceded the county “needs better PR.”
This is because since the last county reassessment in 1982, Beaver County has assigned each property two values: a “market value” and an “assessed value,” which is half the property’s market value and is the current county and local basis of taxation. (Prior to that, since the late ‘50s, the county assessed at 30% of market values.)
Now, officials explain, there are no longer multiple values. The “tentative value” is in fact your “market value,” but it’s now being called your “assessed value.”
Still confused? That “tentative value” is what the county’s hired reassessment company thinks your property is worth and it is what you will be taxed on. Before you freak out, (though it’s too late for many who have seen values increase tenfold or more), you have some time to both challenge the figure, as well as wait to see how the local tax structures will be adjusted to reflect the change, because they will.
Your first homework assignment is to decide if the “tentative value” on your reassessment letter is a fair representation of what you could sell your house for on the open market. If not, you’ll need to ask for an informal appeal by following the directions in the letter.
Next, you would probably like to have some idea of what your new property tax bill might be. I’ve been able to squeeze some insight from county officials that can help you do that.
As you may already know, your property taxes are assessed in “mills,” with Beaver County’s current tax rate set at 26 mills.
Under state law, county government is not allowed to see a tax windfall as the result of a reassessment; it can only bring in a total of 10% more in taxes after a reassessment than before.
The good news is county commissioners tell me they have decided they won’t be seeking that 10% increase, and will work to ensure the total taxes the county brings in after reassessment is equal to the number before. They’ll accomplish that by dramatically lowering the millage rate.
It’s important to note, that while the entire county tax haul can only vary by 10%, individual property owners could see their bills increase or decrease significantly based on how their new assessment compares with their old one.
Until the assessment appeal period is over, and the commissioners know how much the total assessed value of all properties in the county is, there is no way to say for certain what the new millage rate will be.
But county officials say that based on the current tentative numbers, they expect the new county millage rate to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 3.5 mills.
Using that estimate as a rough guide, property owners can do some simple math to get a general idea of what their new county tax bill will be each year.
Estimated County Tax Payment = (“Tentative Value” % 1,000) X 3.5
As an example, let’s say the tentative value on the bottom of your assessment letter is $250,000.
You take the 250,000 and divide it by 1,000, giving you a number of 250. Then you multiply that number by 3.5, for a total of 875.
So in this example, your estimated yearly tax payment to the county would be $875. You can compare that number to prior years to get an idea of how much your county taxes may increase or decrease.
Of course, this number only accounts for the county portion of your property taxes. Each municipality and school district will have to go through the same process as county officials to determine their local tax rates as well – those rates will vary greatly between communities.
The current situation and the 1982 reassessment have a few key similarities: Both were spurred by lawsuits, have roots along the same stretch of Aliquippa riverfront, and both involve Camp family members.
A J&L Steel Corp. assessment lawsuit filed in 1979 preceded the last overhaul. Now, a 2015 lawsuit filed by prominent county businessman C.J. Betters, who owns Aliquippa property once occupied by the steelmaker, is forcing another.
In 1982, Commissioner James G. Camp helmed the board of commissioners. Currently, his distant cousin Dan Camp holds the same seat.
Beaver County’s 1982 property reassessment had all the ugly: angry mobs, a KKK Klansman, about 12,000 appeals and, ultimately, a veritable election bloodbath the following year. BeaverCountian.com published a very detailed examination of how it went down. It can be found here:
It will be interesting to follow the results of this one.
BeaverCountian.com contributing editor Lori Boone contributed to this report.