Fairness Demands A Citywide Property Reassessment

January 30, 2018 GMT

In rejecting a citywide reassessment of property values to fix inequities in the real-estate tax system, the administration of Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tony George is placing its political interests above basic fairness and likely doing long-term damage to the city’s potential for growth. City Administrator Ted Wampole’s rationale for refusing to update property values — something that hasn’t been done in more than half a century — is that homeowners, particularly those who have been in their homes for a long time, would face increases, while businesses and relative newcomers would benefit. That is certainly true, because the latter are being gouged to keep taxes low for the former. In analyzing property values on one city street, Staff Writer Steve Mocarsky found city assessments that vary wildly from Luzerne County’s assessments, which were set after a countywide reassessment in 2008 and are used to levy county taxes on city properties. Two properties on the same street that were judged to be of roughly equal value by the city, and therefore subject to essentially the same city property tax, were judged by the county to differ in value by nearly $30,000. The 2008 county reassessment was aimed at fixing the types of disparities that plague the city’s property tax structure. Every municipality in the county save Wilkes-Barre has adopted the county figures for levying municipal property taxes and Wilkes-Barre should have done the same a decade ago instead of letting the unfairness fester and no doubt grow worse. Apart from that undeniable unfairness, the current system works against efforts to revitalize the city, discouraging an influx of new residents and new businesses by overtaxing them. A reassessment based on the county’s values will undoubtedly increase city taxes for some residents, and lose votes for whoever implements it, but that is no excuse for maintaining a system that is patently unfair to large numbers of taxpayers. If the George administration and the city council are truly committed to the future vibrancy of the city, they should adopt the county’s property assessments and put all taxpayers on an even footing.