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Working to avoid appeals favoritism

Board eyes reducing chance board members know people who appeal.

Luzerne County officials say they are taking steps to prevent any appearance of favoritism in assessment appeals that result from the upcoming reassessment.

The measures will apply to temporary boards created to hear most of the residential and vacant land appeals.

Board members from the southern half of the county will hear appeals from the northern half of the county, and vice versa, said Andrew Shiner, who is on the county’s permanent assessment appeals board.

That will reduce the chance that board members know the people seeking assessment reductions, Shiner said.

“We don’t want any conflict of interest or people hearing the appeals of their neighbors or friends,” Shiner said. “We want to make this as honest as possible.”

Several applicants for the board seats actually made this a condition when they applied because they don’t want to be put in an uncomfortable position facing people they know, Shiner said.

The county will also “make every effort” to group each three-person board with people who don’t know each other, Shiner said.

Each board must include at least one member with a strong real estate background, he said.

County commissioners appointed 20 temporary board members Thursday, including eight alternates who will fill in as needed.

“A number of them have real estate experience. You will never get 20 with real estate experience because many of those who do have a real estate license want to be out making money,” Shiner said.

Thirty people originally expressed interest in the board seats, but 10 removed their names from consideration when they heard specifics about the time they’d have to invest, Shiner said.

“Most of the people serving are retired because of time involved. People can’t just take five months off from their job,” Shiner said.

The temporary board members will be expected to put in seven-hour days, several days per week, starting in May. All appeals must be heard by Oct. 31.

The county expects appeals on 10 percent of the county’s 168,000 properties, or 16,800, because it’s the first reassessment since 1965. Each board will hear about four appeals per hour, he said.

Training of board members will start in early April and include mock appeals and sessions on the valuation of property.

The county’s human resources department is in the process of verifying county residency and conducting criminal background checks on all board members appointed Thursday night, he said.

“It will be intense training, and at that time we’ll probably lose a few people,” Shiner said.

Commissioners want to continue accepting applications for alternate board members because they expect several to drop out, he said. Applications should be directed to county assessment office director Tony Alu.

Temporary appeals board members serve for one year and receive $100 per day, plus $20 per day for travel and expenses. The board members are only paid for days they are working or receiving training, Shiner said.

He provided a brief overview of the backgrounds of the board members appointed Thursday:

Thomas Brogan, Hazleton, retired from Dorr-Oliver Inc.; Anthony Kiddish, Foster Township, retired from an electrical company; James Mullin, Ashley, real estate agent; Toni Rogan, Rice Township, builder; Martin Meyer, Kingston, real estate attorney; Frank Sherman, Luzerne, retired loan officer; Kevin Lamont, Sugarloaf Township, real estate developer; Anthony Dalessandro, Pittston, retired from the Luzerne Intermediate Unit; Tony Draus, Dupont, real estate agent and retired teacher; Dick Traugh, Salem Township, real estate agent; Russell Arnone, Jenkins Township, an insurance agent and former county budget director; and Virginia Augello, Pittston, former county tax claim director.

The following were appointed as alternates: Robert Leshko, Foster Township, a former township supervisor and PPL supervisor; Michael Nemchick, Foster Township, a retired state police trooper and a township planning commission member; Leonard Rossi Jr., Butler Township, a licensed real estate agent and general appraiser trainee assistant; Daniel Frascella, Wright Township, a township supervisor and factory manager retiree; David Alberola, Huntington Township, business owner; Jolinda Becker, Nescopeck Township, township secretary; Diane Hullick, Fairview Township, and Eugene Chromey, Duryea, both retired county assessors.

The permanent appeals board will handle more complicated residential and all commercial appeals.

Shiner and Richard Oravic are paid $29,776 per year. Angelo Terrana receives $32,508 because he is board chairman.

Shiner said his private business will suffer because of the increased appeals, but he and the other two permanent board members are committed to the reassessment.

“It has to get done. Reassessment has been prolonged two long, and all three of us decided we’d stay,” he said. “I think we’ve shown some credibility.”

Commissioners on Thursday appointed Shiner, Oravic and Terrana to another term, which means they will serve until May 20, 2012.

Appeals will be heard at two locations: 350 Second St., Plains Township, and likely a Hazleton bank building purchased by the county.

County Engineer Joe Gibbons told commissioners Thursday the county should have no problem prepping the Hazleton building, 27-31 W. Broad St., for a reassessment center. The county must obtain safety inspections and repair a roof leak at the site, he said.

“We don’t want any conflict of interest or people hearing the appeals of their neighbors or friends. We want to make this as honest as possible.”

Andrew Shiner
County permanent assessment appeals board
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