The Indiana County commissioners Wednesday acted on what commission chairman Rodney Ruddock said is “probably the most important decision the county commissioners have made in 10 years.”
They selected Evaluator Services and Technology Inc., of Lancaster, to conduct the countywide reassessment of properties that will begin this summer.
Selection of EST is the latest step in an undertaking that has been under discussion for about a decade — reassessment of the values of the county’s 48,288 properties. The last countywide reassessment was done in 1968.
EST was recommended by an eight-member selection committee that included Frank Sisko, the county’s chief assessor, and Martin Medvetz, the county’s former chief assessor who is assisting as a consultant. Also acting as consultants are the Ira Weiss law firm, in Pittsburgh, and Diversified Municipal Services.
In announcing the recommendation, Sisko said the committee chose EST in part because of that company’s familiarity with Pennsylvania law; its willingness to hire Indiana County residents to help with the project (perhaps 35 data collectors and six data entry workers on a full-time but temporary basis); its knowledge of clean and green programs in the state that provide for preferential assessments of agricultural properties based on the land’s use rather than its market value; and prices.
EST will perform the reassessment at a cost of $51.77 per parcel. The only other company that responded to the county’s request for proposals to conduct the reassessment was Tyler Technologies, which proposed conducting the reassessment for $56.62 per parcel.
A release from the selection committee also noted that EST offered more manpower hours of support for defending values on appeal than Tyler would. And EST, in the committee members’ opinion, is better equipped to handle the transition between existing software and a new Computer Aided Mass Appraisal system that will be added as part of the reassessment process and may allow the county to periodically in the future update the assessments without the need to hire an outside vendor.
In addition to evaluating the vendors’ proposals, bids and qualifications, the selection team also attended presentations by the vendors and made site visits to places in the state where the vendors had performed reassessments.
The commissioners thanked the selection committee for their time and diligence in evaluating the vendors and in making a recommendation.
Commissioner Patricia Evanko agreed that the reassessment is an important project that will affect the county’s property owners.
“We want to do it right,” she said.
A property assessment study authorized by the commissioners in 2010 concluded that inequality and nonuniformity of taxation was clearly present in the county’s assessment system, and the study recommended a countywide reassessment.
“This will bring everybody’s tax-paying expense into an area (of fairness) that we haven’t had for a long time,” said Commissioner David Frick.
Under a property reassessment timeline set by the commissioners, data will be collected and entered and valuations will be determined from this summer through December 2014.
Official change-of-assessment notices will be mailed in June 2015.
July to October of 2015 will be a period for formal appeals.
Final values will be certified in November 2015, and the new property values will be implemented in January 2016.
The county’s property reassessment is estimated to cost about $3 million, according to attorney Janet Burkardt, one of the county’s consultants. Some of that total will be for operational expenses, including rental of a suite in Townplace Victoria, in downtown Indiana, from June through June 2015, as office space for the reassessment project.