Aug. 30--A state agency plans to analyze Lackawanna County assessment data as part of a review of apparent disparities in the real estate taxes levied on residents of Wayne County'sLehigh Twp. by the North Pocono School District.
A team from the State Tax Equalization Board will be at the assessor's office in the county Gateway Center to examine records next week, Lyndsay Kensinger, spokeswoman for the state Department of Community and Economic Development, confirmed in an email Friday.
Don Welker, the board's interim executive director, will be part of the group, she said.
Lehigh Twp. residents have complained for years they are burdened with disproportionately higher North Pocono taxes -- by an average of $500 to $3,000 annually -- than property owners in the nine Lackawanna County municipalities that make up the bulk of the school district.
Because Wayne and Lackawanna have different assessments, the tax equalization board each year establishes a factor known as the common-level ratio that, when plugged into a formula, creates tax uniformity so the owners of similar properties are paying the same no matter which county they live in.
That is how it is supposed to work in theory, said Lehigh Twp. solicitor Anthony J. Magnotta. In reality, the owner of a $200,000 home in Lehigh Twp. now pays about $4,000 a year in school taxes, while the owner of the same $200,000 home in one of the Lackawanna municipalities pays $2,000 to $2,500.
"It's nothing the (school) district does. The fault really lies with the way the state does the State Tax Equalization Board," Mr. Magnotta said. "But the instances that we continually see in Lehigh Twp. for residents are such that it is really crippling their ability to keep their houses, and it cripples the economic viability of the area."
Calling the whole issue "very, very complicated," North Pocono solicitor Joseph O'Brien agreed with Mr. Magnotta that the solution lies at the state level, not with the school district.
"What the school board does is follow the law," he said. "We have had it reviewed by accountants, by lawyers, by the people at the state, and everything we do is correct. We have to follow the law."
Both he and Mr. Magnotta said part of the problem is Lackawanna County's outdated real estate assessments. Unlike Wayne County, which reassessed in 2004, Lackawanna's last comprehensive reassessment happened more than 40 years ago.
The age of Lackawanna's assessments, along with reductions granted over the years, means assessed values often bear little relationship to market values, even when adjusted by using the common-level ratio, Mr. O'Brien said.
At a meeting in May organized by state Sen. Lisa Baker, R-20, Lehman Twp., that both Mr. Magnotta and Mr. O'Brien attended, tax equalization board officials agreed to look into Lackawanna's assessments, property transactions and other data used in the equalization formula to determine what can be done to correct Lehigh Twp. imbalance.
Ms. Kensinger said the team led by Mr. Welker plans to be in the area for about a week.
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