Andy Knych of Hanover Township, left, donates money to a fund for a lawsuit against the Luzerne County reassessment. At right is LouAnn Horsfield collecting money for the fund.PETE G. WILCOX/THE TIMES LEADER
WILKES-BARRE TWP. – Those in attendance at Monday evening’s meeting of the Residents of Luzerne County United anti-reassessment group had barely finished the Pledge of Allegiance before the meeting’s purpose was made apparent.
“And justice for all,” said Michelle Boice, who led the meeting. “That’s what we’re trying to get here.”
Boice rallied the roughly 100 people who filled the township’s fire hall before handing the proceedings over to Edie Brous. Brous, who said she’s a lawyer but primarily a nurse, said the group will eventually bring a lawsuit to contest the county’s real estate reassessment. She solicited those in attendance to sign up as plaintiffs in the case.
At issue is the county’s reassessment process, which attendees said isn’t equally computing property values.
Brous said the group’s name had been chosen carefully to reflect and include everyone in the county. “If you’re a renter and you think you’re not a part of this community, you’re wrong,” she said, noting that rents will increase as landlords are forced to pay more taxes. “This is unfair to every single person in this county.”
Brous introduced other members of the “attorney coalition,” a group trained in legal issues who will be working for free on the case. Aside from herself, the group included: Gene Stilp, a well-known taxpayer advocate who owns land in Luzerne County; Sally Owen, who Brous said moved to the county to help in the reassessment fight; and Sam Stretton, a Philadelphia lawyer who’s known for taking on contentious cases.
Among the grievances brought by the group were that: the appeal process is “overly burdensome”; the company creating the property assessments shouldn’t be involved in the impartial appeals; the county’s contract with that company, 21st Century Appraisals, lacked true inspection and vetting; and the process provides a disincentive for property owners to upgrade or maintain their properties.
Andy Knych, a Hanover Township resident, questioned the equality of assessments around his neighborhood, noting that his assessment is about $2,000 more than a nearby property that’s bigger than his. “There’s no way you can figure out where they (the appraisers) are coming from,” he said.
He also noted another concern. With tax millages at their legal maximum, the county would have to get court approval to further increase them. By reassessing properties and higher values and reducing millages to maintain the same taxes, it allows the county to soon increase millages – and thus, taxes – without court approval.
“There’s going to be nothing you can do to stop it,” he said.
For more information or to contact the Residents of Luzerne County United, go to www.rolcu.com.