Construction in 38 municipalities pumped up Luzerne County’s tax base $26 million this year to date, new county statistics show.
However, $18.2 million of those gains were wiped out by assessment appeal reductions and demolition in 34 other municipalities.
The net result: the county’s tax base grew $7.8 million from January to June.
County Assessment Director Tony Alu, who released the statistics used for this analysis, is relieved additions are surpassing losses because the county’s tax base had decreased $56 million the second half of 2012.
$19.8 billion tax base
The county’s taxable property is currently $19.838 billion, compared to $19.856 billion a year ago.
“At least we’re heading in the right direction, albeit not as quick as I’d like it to. That’s the best we can hope for in this climate,” Alu said.
Penn Lake Park, a lake community near White Haven, topped the growing municipalities, with an increase of $667,600, or 1.33 percent. The borough’s tax base is now $50.97 million.
More families are moving into the borough’s outlying zone, remodeling dated homes and building new ones, said borough Council President Jill Rosenstock. “We just did a community survey asking why people chose to live here, and the first reason was because it’s so pretty,” Rosenstock said.
Butler Township came in second in percentage growth, increasing 1 percent. The municipality also had the largest dollar rise in taxable property— $7.9 million. The township has been receiving about five building permits a week, mainly for new homes in the Sand Springs development off state Route 309, said township Manager Maryanne Petrilla.
Residential development appeal
Buyers also are snatching up existing homes that are barely on the market, she said. The township is close to Interstates 80 and 81 and still has large tracts of undeveloped space.
“We’ve seen a tremendous amount of activity. We know the economy is suffering, yet things seem to be going very well here,” said Petrilla, a former county commissioner.
In addition to Butler, four municipalities picked up more than $2 million in taxable property: Rice Township, $2.8 million; Jenkins Township, $2.2 million; Dallas Township, $2 million; and Wilkes-Barre, $2.1 million.
Wilkes-Barre remains at the top in overall assessment among the 76 municipalities, with a tax base of $1.45 billion.
Four municipalities had no growth or reductions during the six-month period: Jeddo, Sugar Notch, White Haven and Yatesville.
Laurel Run’s base drops
Laurel Run had the largest reduction — $2.6 million. That’s almost a 10 percent decrease in the municipality’s tax base, which is now $23.6 million.
Borough Mayor Gloria Mosley said she did not know which properties contributed to the drastic decline but said officials will cope with the lost revenue, which amounts to about $4,000 based on the borough’s current property tax rate.
“We’re a very small borough, and we try to stay within our budget and not overextend ourselves,” Mosley said. “We haven’t raised taxes for years and want to try to keep it that way for our residents.”
Three other municipalities had assessment losses over $1 million: Hazle Township, $5.8 million; Hazleton, $3 million and Hanover Township, $1 million.
Shickshinny ranked second in losses on a percentage basis with a reduction of $285,100, or 1.2 percent.
Borough Mayor Beverly Moore attributes the decline to the demolition of flood-prone property and said the tax base will further decrease with upcoming buyouts.
“It’s sad because we didn’t just lose value from the tax base. We lost residents from the town — a lot of them lifelong residents,” Moore said.
Encouraged to appeal
County officials have encouraged property owners to file assessment appeals if they believe they are assessed too high because there are no plans to conduct another reassessment at this time.
Alu has advised council to consider another reassessment when sales and assessments differ by 15 percent, plus or minus.
The state has concluded property in the county sold about 9.92 percent below assessed values last year.
In response to inquiries from council about the outcome of appeals, Alu issued an email saying 391 assessment appeal hearings were held this year to date, and 81 percent received reductions. Aug. 1 is the deadline to file appeals for 2014.