I live in the Central Bucks School District and my kids go to public school, and I am very impressed with the school district. I am impressed with the way they teach my kids everything from math, reading, and writing, to how to handle bullying. I am impressed with their ability to be financially savvy. From utilizing trailers during population booms so as not to have half empty school buildings when the school age population dwindles, to having certain neighborhoods walk to school instead of paying for busses, their drivers and extra fuel. But now I am questioning their intent to appeal the board of assessment's decision which dismissed the district's appeal of 130 assessment appeal applications from this summer. Central Bucks school district is now going to the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas to try again to garner more tax dollars from 18 of those 130 appeals. Bucks County's Board of Assessment decided that the school district did not provide enough evidence that these properties were truly under assessed. The school district spent countless hours going through public records and comparing sale prices from the last year or so with the properties' assessed values. I spoke with the school district manager last year when I read in the paper that they were going to do this. He indicated that they did not want to go to the expense of paying for appraisals. So, after spending $6,950 in filing fees to appeal property owner's assessments, and losing the appeals, the district is taking 18 of these appeals to the next level. According to the article in today's Intelligencer, the school district will spend another $2,500 to its solicitor to represent the district in the hearings and another $3,703.50 in filing fees. On top of all that, the school district now has to hire appraisers.
My experience in appraising real estate for tax appeals has indicated that a few things may happen now. 1. There may be a settlement before they even get to the next level. 2. The school district wins and may be able to recoup its expense. 3. The school district loses and puts a bigger dent into its budget, or 4. Win or lose, the case will go on to the next level, the Commonwealth Court. If the fourth scenario happens, I suspect the school district will lose in the end because it has been proven in court before that a government entity cannot "cherry pick" certain properties for reassessment when it can be proven that other comparable properties are under assessed and not chosen for a reverse appeal. In other words, the school district needs to prove that all properties in the neighborhood, for example, are underassessed, not just one. Case in point, why just 18 of the original 130 appeals? According to attorney, John Fiorillo who successfully challenged the Downingtown School District on a similar case, the court agreed that the government cannot treat one different than others because it is a violation of the Equal Protection clause of the United States Constitution and the Uniformity clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Those 18 property owners should ban together and fight this. I believe they will win if they do.
Bottom line, in my opinion, the ultimate goal is for a county-wide reassessment. Bucks County has not had a reassessment in 38 years! Henceforth, those in newer homes are paying the bulk of the taxes for the county, while those in older homes are not paying their fair share. Remember, I don't make the rules, so don't kill the messenger. The state clearly indicates that real estate taxes are based on market value. I am hoping that Central Bucks School district's reverse appeals will push the county in the right direction to a county wide reassessment. Nonetheless, the school district is spending tax payers' money on something I don't believe will save any money, but rather, be a waste of money.
For further information on the Downingtown school district case or for any help with these 18 appeals, please email me or the attorney, John Fiorillo. His phone number is 610-692-1371. To be continuted....