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First new values to be sent in a month

County officials say rest of values will be mailed in two batches by July 1.

The Luzerne County reassessment countdown is on – for real.

Though past delays raised doubts about promised deadlines, county officials say they are confident the first batch of new assessed values will be mailed in one month, on or around April 19.

The remaining values will be mailed in two more waves by July 1, which is the mandatory deadline for the values to take effect in 2009, officials say.

“I really feel confident that we’re organized and ready to go,” said county Commissioner Chairwoman Maryanne Petrilla. “Hopefully it will be smooth. I fully expect it to be a really busy time.”

County officials aren’t sure what to expect because it’s the county’s first reassessment since 1965. Petrilla said problems must be expected, though she believes the county has done everything it can to prepare.

“Some people will be upset. Some will be happy. Some won’t be affected,” Petrilla said. “The important thing is that the values are fair because that’s what it’s all about.”

Andy Shiner, who sits on the county’s permanent assessment appeals board, said he believes people are aware the mailing is around the corner.

“A lot of people are waiting for those numbers to come,” he said. “For many, it’s not going to strike home until they get that notice.”

Several county departments have been busy readying the two reassessment headquarters – one in Plains Township and the other in downtown Hazleton.

Property owners may visit the sites to conduct research about neighboring properties and to undergo informal and formal assessment appeals.

Supplies and office equipment, including about 100 chairs, have been delivered to the leased space at 350 Second St. in Plains Township, said county assessment office director Tony Alu. Desks and partitions should be set up next week.

The county owns the Hazleton site at 27-31 W. Broad St. because it is eventually slated to become the new southern county annex.

County Engineer Joe Gibbons said he and his staff have worked “feverishly” to complete building inspections and minor repairs, including a leaky roof. The building should be ready for occupancy by the end of March, he said.

County commissioners voted Wednesday night to purchase 60 computers for the two reassessment headquarters. The county is leasing several photocopiers, and property owners will be able to print copies of information about other properties for 25 cents per page, Alu said.

A training session will be conducted April 2 for the 12 auxiliary assessment appeals board members and eight alternates.

Roughly a dozen more people have applied for the auxiliary boards, providing a cushion in case appointed members resign, Shiner said.

County officials expect appeals on 10 percent of the county’s 168,000 properties, or 16,800. The formal appeals should start in May and must be wrapped up by Oct. 31.

21st Century Appraisals Inc., the county’s reassessment company, has delivered most of the proposed residential values to the county for its final inspection, said company representative Tim Barr. The proposed commercial values will be delivered soon, he said.

As an added precaution, the county hired the International Association of Assessing Officers to provide an independent review of 21st Century’s values.

The mailed change of assessment notices will explain what property owners may do if they have questions or concerns about their values, Barr said.

21st Century will staff a call center to answer frequently asked questions and to set up informal reviews, Barr said.

The notices will explain how property owners may obtain some answers online, Barr said. The company is setting up a computer database for property owners to view their own property descriptions and to submit questions or comments.

Barr encourages property owners to take advantage of free informal appeals with the company’s certified appraisers.

The county is also about to send a separate mailing about the clean-and-green program to eligible property owners, Alu said. The program allows farm or forestry property that consists of 10 acres or more to be taxed on an agriculture use value instead of market value.

Commissioners voted in July 2003 to conduct the reassessment.

The values were originally supposed to be mailed in 2006, but the previous administration delayed the project twice. The project was headed for more delays earlier this year because commissioners had failed to make many key decisions. However, Petrilla pushed to get the project back on track when she became commissioner chairwoman in January.

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