The Petersburg assembly will take a closer look at how the borough’s tax assessments are made. That’s in response to complaints from a local property owner at Monday night’s regular meeting. Lynn Escola said she and her husband Paul Johnson appealed their 2013 tax assessment and got an adjustment. So, she didn’t object to this year’s bill. Rather, she had broader concerns. Escola took about 15 minutes to detail what she said were inadequacies and inaccuracies in the borough’s assessment records including conflicting information and a lack of written documentation on how property values were calculated. She also charged there was a lack of transparency and accountability in how the borough manages the assessments, which are contracted out to a private firm.
“To us the borough’s handling of property assessment looks like this: We’re the government. We don’t make mistakes and we certainly don’t need to document for your benefit how we calculate your property value. In fact, we don’t want these documents ourselves because then we’d be liable for the information in them. Now, shut up and write us a check for several thousand dollars. That, in a nutshell, is how Petersburg manages property assessment from the point of view of this property owner. You’re a newly-minted borough assembly with newly-minted residents and properties. This is a good time to take a look at this part of the borough operation. Rethink it. Update it. Upgrade it,” she said.
There were 40 appeals over property taxes this year, but borough assessor mike Renfro had resolved them all prior to Monday’s meeting. Escola was the only person to take her concerns to the assembly.
Renfro attended by phone and said he’d like to get the transcript so that he could provide the borough a written response to all of Escola’s questions.
He said he had addressed the same issues with the couple in person, “I also had our evaluation manuals with me and I explained to them the process in how we came up with the multipliers and how we valued the property.”
Renfro said he would provide his written response to the Borough Manager by July 8th. In addition, Assembly Member John Hoag asked that the manager provide the assembly with an overview of the assessment process, “So we can get an understanding of how the process works and a detailed response of how records are kept and how they’re reconciled.”
Hoag asked if that could be done by the July 15 assembly meeting and there were no objections.