Delco delves into re­assess­ment process

Daily Times (Primos, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Kath­leen Carey kcarey@21st-cen­tu­ry­media. com @ on Twit­ter

Seven­teen years later, Delaware County has delved into an­other re­assess­ment process and although more than 200,000 prop­er­ties will be eval­u­ated, the process is dif­fer­ent this time.

“We are re­view­ing ob­vi­ously ev­ery­thing,” John Van Zelst, Delaware County’s As­sess­ment Man­ager, said.

The re­assess­ment that’s be­ing com­pleted will mark the as­sess­ment of each prop­erty at 100 per­cent of what it’s de­ter­mined to be worth. This year, the as­sess­ment is based on 61.1 per­cent of the prop­erty’s value and in 2019, the as­sess­ment is ex­pected to be 58.1 per­cent of the value.

In March 2017, Delaware County Court of Com­mon Pleas Judge Charles B. Burr or­dered the re­assess­ment of the county due to an ap­par­ent lack of uni­for­mity in vi­o­la­tion of the Penn­syl­va­nia Con­sti­tu­tion.

Af­ter go­ing through the as­sess­ment ap­peal process, two sets of cou­ples, James and Lenore Kauf­man of Rose Val­ley and Peter and Ellen Bo­den­heimer of Haver­ford, had filed a law­suit ques­tion­ing the county’s method­ol­ogy for as­sess­ing home val­ues based on 1998 as the tax-base year.

Their at­tor­ney, John J. Mur­phy III, ex­plained their rea­son­ing at the time of Burr’s or­der.

“The pri­mary ar­gu­ment was that there was a wide­spread lack of uni­for­mity in the as­sess­ments used in Delaware County, which pri­mar­ily af­fected new home­buy­ers,” he said. “The be­lief was that there was a per­va­sive lack of uni­for­mity in prop­erty tax as­sess­ments, not only in (the pe­ti­tion­ers’) com­mu­ni­ties but through­out the county.”

The Penn­syl­va­nia Con­sti­tu­tion has a uni­for­mity clause, which states “all taxes shall be uni­form, upon the same class of sub­jects, within the ter­ri­to­rial lim­its of the au­thor­ity levy­ing the tax.”

The last re­assess­ment done in Delaware County was 2000 and the cur­rent re­assess­ment will be ef­fec­tive in the 2021 tax year.

Start­ing in De­cem­ber 2017, Tyler Tech­nolo­gies Inc. be­gan tak­ing high­res­o­lu­tion street level images of prop­er­ties from the street with their per­son­nel in clearly marked white vans.

Data col­lec­tion has been on­go­ing in Up­per Darby, Al­dan, Clifton Heights, East Lans­downe, Lans­downe, Mill­bourne, Colling­dale and Darby Town­ship.

“Up­per Darby is 99 per­cent fin­ished with all that,” he said, adding that that was one of the largest ar­eas to be eval­u­ated. “It’s a good size - 25,000 parcels, a lit­tle more than 10 per­cent of the county.”

This month, it is be­gin­ning in Yeadon, Col­wyn, Sharon Hill, Fol­croft, Glenolden, Nor­wood, Prospect Park, Tinicum, Ed­dy­s­tone, Ridley Park, Ridley Town­ship, Rut­ledge, Mor­ton, Swarth­more and Spring­field.

“Even­tu­ally, they’ll work their way out west,” Van Zelst said.

In ad­di­tion, Ea­gle­view is pro­vid­ing Delaware County with aerial im­agery, known as pic­tom­e­try.

Although drones are pop­u­lar, that’s not how Ea­gle­view is get­ting this job com­pleted.

“That was a very com­mon ques­tion, but no,” Van Zelst ex­plained. “They use planes. They have to co­or­di­nate with the Philadel­phia (In­ter­na­tional) Air­port that they are not in­ter­fer­ing with any­thing.”

Hav­ing started in the spring, Ea­gle­view staff are tak­ing both or­thog­o­nal (straight down) and oblique (bird’s eye view) pic­tures. Th­ese images will as­sist in de­ter­min­ing which prop­er­ties need to be re­viewed fur­ther through phys­i­cal in­spec­tion or ad­di­tional doc­u­men­ta­tion.

Once the images have been col­lected, ap­prais­ers will visit those prop­er­ties where there are ques­tions and those vis­its are ex­pected to be only about 20 per­cent of all prop­er­ties.

Staff will use th­ese images and com­pare them to ones on file to com­pare for any changes made.

If the prop­erty owner is not home to pro­vide in­for­ma­tion, the col­lec­tor will make es­ti­mates of the in­side of the struc­ture based on other prop­er­ties in the neigh­bor­hood. In all of th­ese cases, the col­lec­tor will mea­sure the out­side of all struc­tures on the prop­erty.

Vis­its are gen­er­ally done dur­ing the day be­cause the col­lec­tors can’t see what they need to see in the dark and it’s not safe for ei­ther the col­lec­tor or the prop­erty owner at night, Van Zelst said.

“We don’t re­ally go in­side the house,” he added.

“We take the mea­sure­ments from the out­side.”

He said they will go into a prop­erty, only if in­vited. “We don’t in­sist on get­ting in there,” he ex­plained.

How­ever, a col­lec­tor will do the best they can to as­sign an ap­pro­pri­ate value for the prop­erty.

“We still have to make it fair for ev­ery­body,” Van Zelst said. “If you’re not let­ting us on the prop­erty, we’re go­ing to have to do an es­ti­mate.”

He said the re­assess­ment per­son­nel’s job is to be fair.

“We’re here to work with peo­ple,” he said. “That’s why we knock on the door to get the ques­tions an­swered. They don’t want to un­der­guess, but they don’t want to over­guess ei­ther. The prob­lem with un­der­guess is you can’t go back.”

In ad­di­tion, prop­erty own­ers will re­ceive a ques­tion­naire in the mail about their prop­erty.

“Ev­ery res­i­den­tial prop­erty will get a mailer,” Van Zelst said. But, he added not ev­ery prop­erty will re­ceive a visit.

The mailer will in­clude in­struc­tions to de­scribe parts of the prop­erty, such as the num­ber of bath­rooms and bed­rooms.

It won’t be un­til 2020 when prop­erty own­ers will re­ceive the new value of the change – and when the pro­cesses to ap­peal those val­u­a­tions will be­gin.

One of the most fre­quent ques­tions he re­ceives is about taxes.

“I guess the ques­tion we get asked first is, ‘How much their taxes are go­ing to go up?’” Van Zelst said. “At this point, no­body can re­ally an­swer that ques­tion.”

Be­sides, taxes are de­ter­mined by mill­age rates set by the tax­ing au­thor­i­ties and vary from town to town and school dis­trict

“We’re here to work with peo­ple. That’s why we knock on the door to get the ques­tions an­swered. They don’t want to un­der­guess, but they don’t want to over­guess ei­ther. The prob­lem with un­der­guess is you can’t go back.”

— John Van Zelst, Delaware County’s As­sess­ment Man­ager

to school dis­trict. For in­stance, Up­per Darby Town­ship has a 20.95 mill­age rate and its school dis­trict has a 37.13 mill­age rate. East Lans­downe, Van Zelst said, has a 13 mill rate for the bor­ough and a 64.9 mill­age for the Wil­liam Penn School Dis­trict.

“The mill­age rates we have no con­trol over,” he added. “We are just in­volved in the as­sess­ment.”

An­other phe­nom­e­non Van Zelst has seen is peo­ple an­gry that their as­sess­ment was too low.

He said he un­der­stands that as no one wants to put money into an in­vest­ment only to find out five years later, it is worth less than what they paid.

Van Zelst said he also finds that in­sur­ance bro­kers are look­ing at the col­lected data more of­ten.

“They need the mea­sure­ments to be as ac­cu­rate as pos­si­ble to give a good quote,” he said.

“Some peo­ple,” he added, “come in and want to cor­rect the data be­cause they weren’t get­ting as high as a num­ber in their ap­praisal for re­fi­nanc­ing.”

County of­fi­cials held six pub­lic meet­ings in var­i­ous parts of the county to dis­cuss the re­assess­ment process. How­ever, in­for­ma­tion is still ac­ces­si­ble via on­line and by phone.

Delaware County has set up a web­site specif­i­cally for the re­assess­ment and can be vis­ited at http://del­co­re­alestate. co.delaware.pa.us/del­core­assess­ment. There is also a Re­assess­ment Hot­line avail­able by call­ing 610-891-5695, where prop­erty own­ers can leave mes­sages to be re­turned by as­sess­ment staff.

DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA FILE PHOTO

The Delaware County Court­house. County Coun­cil has or­dered a re­assess­ment of ev­ery prop­erty in the county.

DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA FILE PHOTO

Ev­ery home in Delaware County is be­ing re­assessed to bet­ter re­flect its ac­tual mar­ket value.

Delaware County Map

KATH­LEEN CAREY - DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

Data col­lec­tors work on re­assess­ment in­for­ma­tion at the Gov­ern­ment Cen­ter in Me­dia. Ev­ery home in Delaware County is be­ing re­assessed.

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