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21st Century closing its W-B office

As reassessment firm leaves, county assessor’s office will now assign all new property values.

Reassessment company 21st Century Appraisals Inc. is literally heading out the door because its Wilkes-Barre satellite office will close at the end of the month.

It’s now up to the county assessor’s office to value all newly constructed or discovered properties using 21st Century’s computerized appraisal system. The office’s performance is crucial because county officials don’t want to pay someone else to revisit all properties the next time reassessment rolls around, probably in four years.

Some assessment workers are familiar with the system, and the rest will be trained by 21st Century in coming weeks.

“We’ve got this great computer system. Now we have to make sure everybody knows how to navigate it,” said assessment director Tony Alu.

Though it may sound odd, properties added to the tax rolls in coming years will have to be valued based on their estimated worth on Jan. 1, 2008, which is the “base year” used for the reassessment.

State law requires counties to maintain assessments tied to the base year, county officials say.

This is not new. Before this reassessment, the county had to convert all new construction to its worth in 1965, the base year of the previous reassessment.

Here’s how it will work:

County field evaluators will gather measurements and other details about a property and enter the data into the computer. The software will calculate a recommended value for that type of structure in that neighborhood using the formulas that 21st Century prepared for the reassessment. These formulas were based on property sales that occurred from 2004 through 2007.

Remember those sometimes controversial factors used in the reassessment – condition and the style/quality grade? They will still be used by the assessor’s office.

Condition is the appearance of a home, ranging from unsound to excellent. Quality refers to the design, craftsmanship and construction of a home, with scores similar to scholastic grades. For example, D- refers to homes in disrepair while "exceptional" homes are graded A+.

Some property owners have complained about inconsistencies in these rankings.

Getting consistent, accurate property information into the system will be the top priority, said county Assessment Appeals Board Chairman Andy Shiner.

“We’re stressing to our people to get the coding right,” Shiner said.

All county field evaluators are certified Pennsylvania evaluators.

As an added precaution, managers will have to sign off on data entered by the evaluators, said George Kechula, a commercial/industrial land appraisals manager in the assessor’s office.

The assessor’s office must essentially ignore all real estate market growth and decline that occurs after Jan. 1, 2008, until the next countywide reassessment.

The county resolution that authorized the reassessment called for future in-house reassessments every four years, which means the next set of values could be issued in 2012.

Alu said the next reassessment may only cost the county several hundred thousand dollars because the county would only have to hire someone to develop new valuation formulas using fresh sales data.

21st Century was paid about $8 million for the reassessment, including $850,000 due to the county’s decision to delay the project. 21st Century representative Tim Barr said an update will cost less because the county won’t have to build the property description database from scratch 43 years after the previous reassessment.

“The cost of doing a full-blown reassessment was about $40 per parcel. An update is typically under $5 a parcel,” Barr said.

21st Century’s contract with the county officially expires on Feb. 28.

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