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By CHERYL R. CLARKE firstname.lastname@example.org
February 10, 2010
WELLSBORO - As the result of an independent consultant's report, Tioga County Commissioners have filed a lawsuit seeking about $150,000 for the failed 2008 county property reassessment.
Real property assessment and valuation consultant Bruce Sauter of Brewster, Mass., gave his report to the commissioners Tuesday, basically saying that 21st Century Appraisals had "failed" to fulfill its contractual requirements with the county and also "failed" to meet assessment performance standards laid out by the International Association of Assessing Officers in a reassessment it was hired to do.
County solicitor Raymond Ginn Jr. said based on Sauter's findings, the county has filed a lawsuit in the court of common pleas for the $140,000 paid to 21st Century, plus the costs of mailing notices to 27,000 property owners when the commissioners rescinded the reassessment, which amounted to about $10,000.
The cost of hiring Sauter, which to date amounts to about $10,000, was not mentioned as being part of the suit.
The problem began when 21st Century missed its January 2008 deadline to file the reassessment figures. Notices were mailed out to property owners in July without being examined by county officials, Commissioner Sue Vogler said.
Public outcry over the reassessment figures, which Sauter said were "skewed" to make those properties at the lowest end of the scale seem to be worth much more than they really were, was enormous, and a public meeting drew more than 400 people to the courthouse.
In his report, Sauter said 21st Century showed "substantial bias" in its "value estimates," which he said were based more on data and less on actual field visits.
"If the 21st Century values had been implemented, taxpayers with the least ability to pay or contest their assessments would have paid a disproportionately higher share of the real property tax burden," he said.
Sauter said that at the same time 21st Century was conducting Tioga County's reassessment, it also was conducting one for Luzerne County, which has 165,000 parcels and was paying much more for the service.
"I think maybe they probably put more effort into evaluating there than here, being a small company with limited resources," he said. "They (21st Century) probably chased the bigger bucks."