Spread The Mustard - Adams County Tax Reassessment Activism

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Pennsylvania Constitution:

Taxation and Finance - Uniformity of Taxation Section 1.

All taxes shall be uniform, upon the same class of subjects, within the territorial limits of the authority levying the tax, and shall be levied and collected under general laws.

Commissioner's Meeting 2/9/11


State Tax Equalization Board (STEB) Lambasted


The State oversight committee that is charged to make sense of the Commonwealth's 67 county's property taxes is coming under fire from the auditors. It seems they have some wacky data that doesn't make sense, and may need an oversight committee to oversee them. My thinking is, if 21st Century Appraisals is doing the majority of reassessment work in Pennsylvania, it's no wonder they have some wacky data! 'Nuff said!


A Scathing Report from Department of the Auditor General

Auditor Calls Out State Tax Equalization Board

Auditor Sees Flaws in System

21st Century Appraisals Continues to Make the Headlines...


...only not in a good way! Luzerne County, who suffered the same injustice as Adams County did at the hands of 21st Century Appraisals, has done something about it. They filed complaints with the state to try to yank the license of 21st Century Appraisals to prevent them from harming any more people then they have already. This is what we must do! Please click on the link to the left that says "File a Complaint". Then click on "Operational Licensee" to file your complaint. You must name Dr. Robert Barr in your complaint, since he is the owner and licensee, as well as 21st Century Appraisals. If you cannot access the complaint form there, you can obtain it here.


Read what Luzerne County has done

Anyone still skeptical?


The more I look, the more I find. For our county officials to get this right before the new tax bills come out, they have a monumental task. They have no one to blame but themselves. It seems our Assessment Office has run amok, all in the name of land preservation. Land preservation, is a noble cause, but it shouldn't be done unfairly, and certainly not unlawfully!


My latest discovery is an improved forest reserve property that does not have the "base acre" taxed at FMV. A second card was made up (a gimmick commonly used at COL) that shifts the dwelling to a card with "zero land". This allows the entire parcel to receive the preferential discount, which is contrary to our tax laws. Seems they can't even cheat uniformly!


Improved Forest Reserve Parcel Taxed improperly

More than you ever wanted to know about the taxation of Forest Land

Wireless Cell Towers Taxed improperly



Additionally, I want to share with you some statistics, for the record. It will be interesting at some point later, to reflect back on them. As of, February 10, 2011, there are:

  1. 734 - Farmsteads in Adams County in 2010 (as per County Assessor); could this be the most realistic estimate of "real" farms in Adams County today?

  2. 1260 - Adams County Farms as estimated by the Penn State Cooperative (2007)

  3. 3,142 - Ag-Use parcels as recorded by Courthouse Online (2011); a remarkable increase. Way to go Adams!

  4. 2504 - Ag-Use Improved parcels

  5. 638 - Ag-Use vacant parcels

  6. 233 - Ag-Reserve Improved parcels

  7. 51 - Ag-Reserve Vacant parcels

  8. 654 - Forest-Reserve Improved parcels

  9. 410 - Forest-Reserve Vacant parcels

What is a "farmstead" property?
A farmstead property is all buildings and structures on a farm of ten contiguous acres or more in size that are used primarily for agricultural purposes (such as housing animals, or storing supplies, production, or machinery). The farmstead must be the permanent residence of at least one owner, as defined under the homestead definition. The farmstead exclusion would be applied to buildings and structures that are not already exempt from real property taxation under other laws. The requirement that an owner live on the farm means that farms owned and operated by absentee owners will not be eligible for the farmstead exclusion.

I requested via the Right To Know Law, the annual survey that the Adams County Chief Assessor submits to the Department of Agriculture on January 31 of each year. This year's survey has not yet been completed (I assume she's busy) so they gave me last year's. I found it to be rather sparse and incomplete on some important information. I hope the Department of Agriculture didn't need this info too badly.

2009 Annual Survey

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture publishes an annual report on Farmland Preservation each year. You can find that below.


2009 Dept of Ag Report

Letter To County Officials (In the name of Tax Fairness)


The following was sent to various officials as part of the growing concern over an unfair shifting of the tax burden. I only ask for the program to be administered the way it is supposed to be.

From: Moose [mailto:moose@spreadthemustard.com]
Sent: Sunday, January 30, 2011 9:33 PM
To: bwalter@adamscounty.us; gweikert@adamscounty.us; gsnyder@adamscounty.us; lmoreno@adamscounty.us; John Hartzell
Cc: Dan Moul dmoul@pahousegop.com; Richard Alloway II (alloway@pasen.gov); Will Tallman (Wtallman@pahousegop.com)
Subject: Clean & Green in Adams County
Importance: High

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

"Those in power need checks and restraints lest they come to identify the common good for their own tastes and desires, and their continuation in office as essential to their preservation of the nation." - William O. Douglas

Please find attached, my official notification to Adams County Officials, regarding my belief that the administration of the Clean and Green Program Act 235 in Adams County, is contrary to the intent of the Program. I cite numerous reasons in the attached and reserve opinion on other aspects until further investigation. I ask for a full investigation of the Program and the way it is administered in Adams County, Pa. I feel that an enormous amount of taxable property is mistakenly given preferential discounts through the program, thereby shifting an unjust tax burden upon those parcels that are not eligible for the program. I have researched the facts thoroughly and can provide case law that supports my findings. 

Attached to this email is correspondence from Mr. Douglas Wolfgang, Director of the Department of Agriculture. His comments are included within the attachment as supporting evidence. Briefly, Adams County grants Ag-Use to a full parcel, regardless of how much is actually in "active agricultural production". This is contrary to the intent of the program as Mr. Wolfgang explains. The balance of the tract in question, should go to one of the other categories (Ag-Reserve or Forest-Reserve), and a Base Acre would then be taxable at FMV.  

I trust that you will give my findings your utmost attention, develop a Plan of Action to bring the Program and the administration of the same into compliance, and grant me a written response in 30 calendar days.  

Thanks for your time and diligence in this matter. 

Bruce Hollinger

Birch Trail

Fairfield, Pa. 17320


Read The Attachment

Reader says thanks...


... and wants to hear more from the Candidates. Don't we all! He also speaks out on Commissioner's meetings...


Great Job

From Mr. Bill Dana


At least one week in advance of each Public Meeting of The Adams County Board Of Commissioners I have:

1) submitted my request to give testimony,

2) the subject matter as it relates to Adams County operations, and

3) a reasonable request for time to call attention to the mis-handling of county finances.

My name appears on the distributed Agenda, and the last two Agendas I was the only person making a formal request!! The Commissioners have stated they want the Public Meetings over in an hour and a half and they consume at least one hour rushing thru important county business and spending, leaving little or no time for citizen input. In 5 minutes there is barely enough time to raise the issues let alone make suggestions for improvements. The taxpayers who address the Board have raised substantative issues of potential or actual official malfeasance by the Commissioners and for this reason the Commissioners wish to limit a constitutional right.

When governmental bodies impose time limits they "voir dire" the subject matter so that reasonable time is allowed--not arbitrary and capricious "one size fits all" time limitations.

I hand out outlines at the Public Meetings and if you had been there you would have seen for yourself that it was solid material that could not be addressed in 5 minutes.

It is a fundamental principle of justice that the law be applied fairly to the specific facts and unique circumstances of each case.


My Right To Know Request


This is the Right To Know Request (and subsequent emails) that I submitted to the County. This is what caused the fuss in the most recent Commissioner's meeting. They originally wanted $2760 for the information. This information should already exist as an Excel spreadsheet because it HAD to be saved in order to create the pdf's to send to each local taxing authority. The sample available at Carroll Valley's website shows it being sorted by municipality, then alphabetically. This is very easily done in Excel. It typically does not come out sorted and arranged as the sample...it needs to be manually doctored to look like that.


One thing that is disturbing to me is the cost. My gosh, $2760 to pull this information out of the database?! I query the database at work daily and I get what I want in seconds after I submit my search parameters (which takes seconds also). Then, I manipulate it to look how I want it to look. With a macro in Excel, I can sort it the way I want by pushing 3 buttons simultaneously.  It doesn't cost me $2700 to do that at work! We have a serious problem in Adams County if it costs that much to prepare documents that need to be updated frequently.


If anyone would like to submit a Right To Know Request, you can get the form here.


Need more Info? Here's a Quick Guide to the Open Records Law


Your Right to Free Speech Amended...Adams County Style!


Your elected officials, you know...the ones who, We The People pay a handsome salary, have just limited the public discussion time to 30 minutes per meeting, and 5 minutes per person. This is surely a questionable tactic they have just employed. I'm quite sure this will be a short-lived amendment and will be repealed by the new incoming commissioners who will be elected in November. It is my opinion that the commissioners should entertain public questions/comments as long as it takes. They are after all, elected by us, paid by us, and expected to act in OUR best interests.


And another thing...the new County Manager was heard from for the first time. His tone was very caustic and disconcerting for a first impression. He should fit in very well with these commissioners (on the way out the door).


Things are going to get real interesting...


...very soon. I've requested some information from the county as well as some other governmental agencies and it's starting to pan out just as I expected. The county is being evasive giving me the data I requested, initially asking $2,760 for the data and finally asking for 30 more days to compile it. The problem is, it already exists in electronic form...all they have to do is give it to me.


Secondly, I've gotten some info from those other governmental agencies and backed it up with legal case files. Just to tease you a bit...there could be yet another major shift of taxes. Only this time, in favor of the little people. It is possible that very soon, We The People will have done more in six short months to promote Tax Fairness, than the Barr Family has done in Forty years! Stay tuned, it's gonna be fun!


I wrote the above before I saw the video below. All I can say is...Wow!


Commissioner's Meeting January 26, 2011 - Don't Miss!


BONUS: After the meeting is over...there's more discussion! As Mr. Dana spoke to, Thank you Adams County Television (ACTV) for bringing us this great presentation!




The Real Story of Tioga County


Let me start by giving Tim Barr his due. Tim made some entries in a blog recently that contradicts reality. I want to paste his original comments below, then I will follow with a news article that we just came by. I will post both in their entirety so as not to take chance on the news articles disappearing into the archives never to be seen again. I want this to live in infamy.


Tim's blog comments (he was responding to one of my comments):

Moose wrote:
I am not the only one who has questions about the competency of 21st Century Appraisals. Matter-of-Fact, Bruce Sauter, an expert in the field, also has questions of their methods and competency. Take a look at the Tioga report. http://spreadthemustard.com/Tax%20Assessment/TiogaSRFinal_1.pdf

Tim Wrote: That report is not based on a 21st Century work product.

Tioga did their own reassessment, their own fieldwork, their own appraisal judgements, and finally set their own final values - and then didn't implement the reval. Frankly the timing was unexpected poor (July 2008 right after the market crash). Our assitance to them was limited, but they needed political cover so they commissioned a "custom" study that does not accurately represent the facts. You must ask yourself what was the "purpose" of the study, as commissioned.

In Luzerne (where we were responsible for everything except the appeals process), the IAAO was hired directly to conduct an independent study. The IAAO then hired Mr Sauter to do the study - and he provided a glowing report for 21st Century and identified that it was some of the best reval work he had ever seen.

In Cumberland, a split-opinion board of commissioners hired a consultant for an independent review of their reval (like Tioga, the county did most of the work and we provided limited assistance). That report came out good too.

The State Tax Equalization Board (STEB) publishes quality of Assessment statistics annually. 21st Century has for over a decade, and continues to be the company with the top-ranked counties.

Reassessments aren't perfect, the process isn't perfect, the law isn't perfect, humans aren't perfect - but the end result can stll be measured using overall statistics and the fairness and uniformity is improved by the process.

Since that study was published, a settlement has been reached with the county so we can all move on.

Now, let's move onto the news article I just found:

Tioga County seeks $150,000 for failed reassessment
By CHERYL R. CLARKE cclarke@sungazette.com
Williamsport Sun-Gazette
February 10, 2010

WELLSBORO - As the result of an independent consultant's report, Tioga County Commissioners have filed a lawsuit seeking about $150,000 for the failed 2008 county property reassessment.

Real property assessment and valuation consultant Bruce Sauter of
Brewster, Mass., gave his report to the commissioners Tuesday,
basically saying that 21st Century Appraisals had "failed" to fulfill
its contractual requirements with the county and also "failed" to meet
assessment performance standards laid out by the International
Association of Assessing Officers in a reassessment it was hired to do.

County solicitor Raymond Ginn Jr. said based on Sauter's findings, the
county has filed a lawsuit in the court of common pleas for the
$140,000 paid to 21st Century, plus the costs of mailing notices to
27,000 property owners when the commissioners rescinded the
reassessment, which amounted to about $10,000.

The cost of hiring Sauter, which to date amounts to about $10,000, was not mentioned as being part of the suit.

The problem began when 21st Century missed its January 2008 deadline to file the reassessment figures. Notices were mailed out to property owners in July without being examined by county officials, Commissioner Sue Vogler said.

Public outcry over the reassessment figures, which Sauter said were
"skewed" to make those properties at the lowest end of the scale seem to be worth much more than they really were, was enormous, and a public meeting drew more than 400 people to the courthouse.

In his report, Sauter said 21st Century showed "substantial bias" in
its "value estimates," which he said were based more on data and less on actual field visits.

"If the 21st Century values had been implemented, taxpayers with the least ability to pay or contest their assessments would have paid a disproportionately higher share of the real property tax burden," he

Sauter said that at the same time 21st Century was conducting Tioga County's reassessment, it also was conducting one for Luzerne County, which has 165,000 parcels and was paying much more for the service.

"I think maybe they probably put more effort into evaluating there than here, being a small company with limited resources," he said. "They (21st Century) probably chased the bigger bucks."

Isn't that special! I suppose the independently commissioned report AND the news article is wrong!? This echoes much the same thing I have been finding and sharing with Adams residents. I have not only been saying it, but illustrating it like this, and this, and this, and this. It is much easier to see when it's illustrated. The poor folks at the bottom of the rung have been singled out to shoulder an unfair portion of the tax burden That is the same in county after county that 21st Century Appraisals, services. One would think that when county after county screams bloody murder, someone would take notice. 21st Century Appraisals doesn't even bother to "fix" their apparent flawed algorithm. When that occurs, is it really flawed, or is it by design?


Oh yeah Tim, almost forgot. Please quit using that "Tax Fairness is Needed" slogan! That is the biggest crock of baloney I've ever seen!

Gary Brown's Testimony (a must for Carroll Valley lot owners going to court)


Attached is a portion of the transcript of the Freedom vs Adams County Board of Assessment Appeals. This contains Gary's testimony only. It will demonstrate that Gary's Board ruled on unbuildable Carroll Valley lots at 10% of their original assessed values. If you're headed to court, that means your Board most likely used another percentage, thereby demonstrating non-uniformity. Non-uniformity is bad. Gary is good! Ask for the good Judge to allow this transcript as evidence so we all don't have to subpoena Gary to Court and inconvenience him.


Gary's testimony only

The entire transcript (13mb)

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