Delco delves into reassessment process
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.
The Delaware County Courthouse. County Council has ordered a reassessment of every property in the county.
Every home in Delaware County is being reassessed to better reflect its actual market value.
Delaware County Map
Data collectors work on reassessment information at the Government Center in Media. Every home in Delaware County is being reassessed.