CLARION — Even though Clarion County has not increased property taxes in recent years, it has been able to collect more real estate tax simply by making sure that taxes are being paid on all structures.
In 2016, Commissioners Ted Tharan, Wayne Brosius and Ed Heasley suspected some properties were not being taxed. Additional taxable properties provide more revenue — not only for the county, but also for school districts and municipalities.
The Clarion County Assessment Office and Geological Information System, now headquartered in an expanded and renovated suite of offices on the first floor of the courthouse, was charged with finding buildings that were never on the tax rolls until now.
Director Cherin Abdelsamie and staff have worked since 2016 on the project, including the combination of two former separate departments into one. The results so far have been impressive.
Since the start of this year, the county added an additional $16,602,850 of assessed value to the tax rolls as of the end of July. The total assessed value of real estate in Clarion County is now $430,249,766.
And, the assessment office is still looking for more buildings left off of the tax rolls.
“Having new technology and aerial photography provided by Seneca Resources to Clarion County, we were able to compare with what we had on the cards and the 2006 aerial photography we had with what Seneca Recourses took in 2014,” said Abdelsami. “We can definitely see that there was a change, and that’s how we go out and pick up structures.”
“The way that we are doing it right now is pretty much sketching up any additions or any structures that are not on the tax rolls,” she continued. “Any person that is building a structure on any property gets an assessment permit, and the municipality should forward the assessment permit to us. There is a building permit and the assessment permit. An assessment permit is a permit you get for any structure you were building on your property. An assessment permit is needed for any new structure that is more than four-feet by six-feet.”
Unfortunately, some municipalities never sent copies of the assessment permits.
The commissioners recently approved hiring three new part-time (29 hours per week) employees to help with the continuing efforts to add structures to the tax rolls.
Two of the positions will be field assessors, and their primary responsibility is to locate, identify and accurately measure from exterior dimensions of the assigned properties and accurately record all pertinent data on a data collection form.
The other position is for data entry, and responsibilities include preparing source data for computer entry by compiling and sorting information, reviewing data for deficiencies, and resolving discrepancies.
Abdelsamie wants to encourage municipalities to send in tax record changes for properties as it will create more revenue for that municipality.
All boroughs have completed updating their tax records. Recent studies in Clarion and Farmington townships prompted sending 200 letters to property owners about the construction of new buildings, add-ons and the removal of structures.
Aerial photos of Farmington Township are still being reviewed for changes in structures.
“We received some information that there are more structures being added in Beaver Township. We might divide Beaver Township into sections and go out and check the area over there,” said Abdelsamie.
“We are adding whatever we find on the property that wasn’t on our records,” Abdelsamie said. “They receive an assessment notice. Once we add the structures to the property, we notify the property owner we have added or removed structures that are no longer there. The property owners have 40 days to appeal. If they appeal within 40 days, we waive the fee for applying for an appeal. They have to appeal in writing within 40 days from when they received the notice. Any property (owner) has the right to appeal their assessment, and this year the deadline is Sept. 1 and for next year, (it) is Aug. 1. Forms are found online or stop by the office and pick up. The fee for residential is $10 and $25 for commercial. Next year, the residential will be $25 and the commercial would be $50. A board of appeals has the decision to grant or appeal following a presentation.”
None of the field assessors are allowed to enter the structures when measuring their outside dimensions. A notice is left in the structure when the field assessors leave, notifying the property owner what has taken place.
Abdelsamie stressed that the process of adding new buildings is not a total reassessment.
“Our reassessment is based on 1975 values,” she explained. “This means we are evaluating the property as if we did it back in 1975. Reassessment means that you are bringing the assessment very close to the market value in the current year. Let’s say that we would reassess Clarion County in 2019 and then you would bring it to current value because of the material of the property or the way that you are reassessing.”