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From the Desk
County Commissioner George Weikert

When I took office for my first term on the Adam County Board of Commissioners in January of 2008, I was aware of some of the projects that were on the County agenda. I ran for the office with the commitment of working with my colleagues to complete unfinished projects and move the county forward. By the way it has been a pleasure working with Commissioners Moreno/Woodward and Snyder for the past three years. We have been very successful at reaching compromise and getting the work of the county completed.

We have vastly improved the Countyís financial status. The 2010 fiscal year was closed out with a $2.8 million fund balance and a $1.4 million capital reserve. Cash on hand will allow Adams County to operate its government without the need to borrow money through the end of March when tax revenue will be available to fund County operations. This is the first year, in many years, that a Tax Anticipation Note was not required to keep the county operating in the first quarter. These efforts were completed with no county tax increases in 2010 or 2011.

A sales agreement was signed with St Francis Xavier Church to purchase four properties on High St in Gettysburg adjacent to the County Courthouse complex. These properties will fulfill the space requirements needed for Adams County for many decades to come.

The Belmont Road Bridge in Cumberland Township is finally ready to go to bid and a letter to proceed has been signed for the North Gettysburg Trail. Both these projects will be funded by State, Federal and County liquid fuels funds, no local real estate dollars will be expended.

A county manager was brought on board in January of 2011. Albert Penksa, a Johnstown native, is working with the Commissioners to assure contract compliance with our vendors and union agreements. He is also assisting the Board in all contract negotiations, employee performance appraisals and budget oversight. County Government is now being operated as the large business which it is. Enhanced oversight of all government operations, including hiring employees, department reorganizations, increased revenues, decreased expenses and a more business structured government. These actions will allow Adams County to provide the services needed by its residents with a smaller more efficient County service delivery system.

A court brokered settlement to a law suite brought by a group of unhappy real estate tax payers became a massive, difficult and unpopular opportunity for Adams County in 2009/2010. Seems that twenty years had passed since property values had been evaluated and the Countyís President Judge decided that a countywide property reevaluation, paid for by Adams County taxpayers was the only fair solution to the problem. I soon discovered that most of the County staff was not working for the county twenty years ago and only two or three employees remained who had any experience with the 1990 property reevaluation process. I also became aware a property reevaluation in 1996 cost county taxpayers over $1 million dollars and was never completed. This was a project that needed to be completed, it would not be acceptable or prudent to allow it to go undo once again.

One of my predecessors suggested to me that it would be an easy process, simply assign every county employee to the project, have them work nights and weekends, visit every property in the county, measure all the buildings, take digital photographs and bring back the data. Then have the countyís five certified property evaluators review all the real estate sales from the past three years, put the properties into groups or neighborhoods and establish a fair market value for each of the Countyís 46,000 properties. It soon became apparent with a total staff of 12 employees this project could not be preformed by county personnel and meet the timeline established by the Judges order.

It was apparent that a mass appraisal approach was the only option available and that a professional vendor skilled in mass appraisals would be required. A search for a vendor found only four firms available to assist the county in this effort. Two of those vendors were not certified to do this work in Pennsylvania and one of the remaining vendors was familiar to Adams County as we were using their software in our old existing real estate data system. A cost of $45 per property was thought to be very reasonable and additional dollars could also be saved since the vendor could network our old and new real estate tax systems together at a smaller additional cost.

The project got started in early 2009, data was collected, neighborhoods established, values placed on each property and notices sent to each property owner on or before June 30, 2010. Informal appeals allowed property owners to have the vendor correct errors in data collection which had minor changes to the overall value. Vendor supplied certified property evaluators worked behind the scenes to make value adjustments throughout the informal appeal process. Formal appeals boards established by the county worked with property owners by using limiting factors to make adjustments for condition, location, flood plains, steep slopes, unbuildable and landlocked parcels throughout the county. Eighteen percent of property owners went through the appeal process in order to negotiate a value which they thought was fair and equitable. Just over one percent of property owners, about 500, have filed to the court of commons pleas for further appeals with approximately ninety percent of those appeals are being settled at pretrial conferences sponsored by the court. The values for all county properties have been established and new millage rates are being by all taxing bodies. Those values will be appearing on county/municipal tax bills which will be mailed very soon.

The reassessment project has been completed. It has been a grueling and unpleasant project for us all. A new baseline for county property values has been established. This new baseline can be used for many years to come. Some of us had not been paying our fair share and some of you have been paying too much for to long. Unfortunately those who have been paying too much will not get a rebate and fortunately those who have been paying to little will not have to pay a penalty. We may still not agree on our established value and if we donít we can appeal our value again this year. Call the county assessment office and schedule an appeal tomorrow. If there is a mistake we will fix it and if you donít agree with the value we will work with you to try to resolve your concerns.

We canít discard this project; we have spent too much time, talent and resources in the process. County Tax Service staff and the Board of Assessment Appeals are available to help answer your questions and help resolve your values if we can justify your reasons for change. Pictures tell a thousand words, bring them in so we can get an accurate estimate as to the condition and value of your property.

History has revealed that each and every countywide reassessment ever completed or attempted in any county in the state of Pennsylvania has ended with the same result.

Taxpayers upset with changing values, elected officials critised for attempting to fulfill their duties and attorneys and property appraisers profiting throughout the process. Contact your local state representatives and ask them to help reform the Property Tax Law here in Pennsylvania.

Lets all lobby for tax reform to include a menu of options to support the needs of our communities. A 1% optional sales tax in Adams County would be a huge relief on those who own property and help carry the burden of the county and six school district budgets. Iím sure the millions of visitors who share our history and rural resources would not turn away and would gladly share an extra penny when they buy a souvenir or box of fruit here in our county.

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