THE WORD “fiasco” comes to us from France via a short layover in Italy. Some say it was actually theater slang for describing “a flop.” Fiare fiasco, “turn out a failure.” Far fiasco is also used, “a complete breakdown in performance.”
“Disaster,” “catastrophe” and “bomb” are listed as appropriate synonyms. It’s safe to say we can now add “reassessment” to that list of interchangeable words.
The spectacle of Wednesday night’s commissioners meeting at Luzerne County Community College in Nanticoke only portends more problems. The gross inaccuracies that regularly come to light might one day reach a critical mass so large that it forms a standing for citizens to take the entire matter to court. When a man of former congressman Jim Nelligan’s stature is on the front page of The Times Leader pointing out the unfairness involved, people pay attention.
It seems 21st Century Appraisals’ contract allows it to do a questionable job reassessing our county, make you pay for the experts necessary to fix its mistakes and then work with the boards of appeal in judgment of its own work and your taxes. 21st Century should be made to reimburse homeowners who have to shell out hundreds of dollars for experts necessary to correct the company’s errors. But I suppose that’s not in its contract.
Ultimately the responsibility to get this right lies with the county commissioners.
On Wednesday evening Commissioner Greg Skrepenak moved to delay indefinitely the reassessment process that he happily facilitated and enabled for the last five years. It wasn’t until the kitchen got red hot that he high-tailed it out of there to make his motion, which fell for lack of a second. While board Chairwoman Maryanne Petrilla did not second his motion, she deserves credit for allowing it on the agenda. There was a time when the minority was not treated as well.
Petrilla and many others are skeptical of Skrepenak’s motion. “What plan does Greg have for financing a delay,” she asked, “or is he just going to throw it all away?”
Apparently Commissioner Petrilla is not aware of the “Skrepenak Action Plan” (SAP), which was announced earlier this month.
The SAP calls for halting indefinitely the implementation of property values for 2009. But then what? 2010? The SAP does not speak to this. The SAP also calls for property tax reform. Good luck with that one; area legislators have been fighting that battle for more than a decade. The SAP calls for a “Gas Exploration Task Force” and a “consortium to purchase electricity.” Huh?
My favorite is the SAP’s courageous call for “a decrease in the use of paper.” That’ll sure “git-r-done” and immediately lower everyone’s property taxes; won’t it?
Getting the picture?
In fact, the only meaningful thing the SAP put forward is looking into how the data used to determine property values was collected. But that should have been looked at and planned for ahead of time. Suggesting the barn door should only now be closed is just pathetic. The less-than-stellar preparation, which should have been performed years ago, now has this county tied up in knots and standing on the edge of an $8 million abyss.
This is the 31st edition of my column, “In The Arena.” The first column I wrote addressed the opportunities and difficulties facing new commissioner Maryanne Petrilla. Reassessment is but one of several storms she inherited. She is being tested like no other commissioner has ever been. An entire county is counting on her to get this right. It is a difficult yet thrilling position in which to be.
I hope she wouldn’t have it any other way.