New assessment figures may translate into higher tax bills


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Photo by Jerry Sowden - Janine Russell (front) and Mary Swisher were busy Tuesday manning the phones and answering questions at the center for assessment-related issues in Cranberry Mall.

Tuesday's mail deliveries snapped Venango County residents out of their summer complacency coming off a three-day holiday.

Land and building reassessment notices wound up in most property owners' mailboxes Tuesday. It is the culmination of a countywide effort started last year to update property values culled from figures created in the 2000 reassessment.

Although shared with property owners now, the new reassessment figures won't go into effect until 2005.

Last month, a final review of all 40,000-plus properties in the county showed their combined value had jumped by 22 percent in four years.

The county's overall property value, based on the market value or how much a property would sell for, is pegged at more than $1.9 billion. That's a jump of about $350 million in four years.

It won't shake out as that, according to Gene Porterfield, director of assessment for 21st Century. The Harrisburg-based company has a contract with Venango County to conduct the reassessment. Eventually, once appeals are heard and certain property exemptions are taken into consideration, the boost will be more like 17 percent.

Eventually, the increase in property values may translate into a bigger tax bill for many county property owners. That worry will push residents who learned Tuesday their property values went up to file for appeals.

The center for all the reassessment-related issues has opened in the former Pearle Vision offices near the movie theaters at the Cranberry Mall.

It was a bustling place on opening day Tuesday, chief county assessor Roberta Cox said.

"We've been very busy so far," Cox said at mid-day. "Some people are happy and some aren't with the new values. But the process here is working fine and we are able to answer their questions. And we have people picking up all kinds of information, including appeal forms."

Unlike the 2000 assessments, property owners are not able this time around to file for an appeal via the telephone or in a brief meeting with an assessment official. The mall center, staffed by 14 local residents hired by 21st Century, offers only information and applications for exemption programs like Clean and Green or the Homestead filing. Property owners will not be able to file an appeal by simply speaking with a reassessment center worker.

All appeals must be submitted in writing by Aug. 10. The forms plus information about appeal rules and regulations are available at the assessment office in the courthouse or the center at the mall. The hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

General information is also available by calling the mall center at 677-0323.