Emotions running high among taxpayers ** On the phone, in person and online,residents weigh in with despair, anger
Morning Call - Allentown, Pa.Author:Samantha MarcusDate:Feb 29, 2012Start Page:A.5Section:News Text Word Count:763
Pamela Horvath has been trained to deal with angry and defiant taxpayers. But some of the people who were calling orvisiting the Lehigh County assessment office Tuesday were neither angry nor defiant. They were crying.Elderly people on fixed incomes. Young parents on single incomes. The county's first reassessment in 21 years had leftthem stunned by tax increases that would cost them hundreds of additional dollars a year. The crying "breaks your heart," said Horvath, who was treating those calls with a soft touch. "A lot of people just want tobe listened to and not pushed off."Horvath's work station put her on the front lines of the stream of people walking into the office Tuesday, a daythousands of Lehigh County property owners were reeling from twin jolts -- a reassessment and a new tax estimate. The county's assessment office was the epicenter of all the frustration, confusion and despair. The impact startedMonday afternoon, as reassessment notices with the fates of more than 125,000 properties hit mailboxes across thecounty. The first wave of website visitors and callers followed, and the assessment office-turned-customer call center eruptedvirtually overnight. By Tuesday morning, 800 people had phoned the assessment office and 750 had filed for informalreviews. The fifth-floor assessment office deals in property values. But taxes are the bottom line for property owners. More thanhalf of the county's properties' taxes will go down.But taxes are increasing for the other 45 percent. And they typically were the ones lighting up phones and shooting off emails -- many convinced they were being gouged or unfairly assessed compared with neighbors.Francis Unger, the county's director of real estate, likes to say value is more opinion than exact science. He was around20 years ago, the last time the county reassessed properties. That generated 700 informal reviews and 1,000 formalappeals before the Board of Assessment Appeals.Near the end of the day Tuesday, 26,068 people had checked their property records online and 1,697 had requestedinformal reviews. Property owners have until March 16 to request a chance to sit down with an assessor and disputetheir assessment.Ninety percent of the people county employee Michelle Daddona had spoken with were upset but taking the news instride, she said, while the other 10 percent were steaming mad about their taxes, the economy or government ingeneral.Dave and Mary Jean Minarovic were in the Lehigh County assessment office to be sure."The letter said they [taxes] should go down, and I don't like the word should," she said.During their visit the Bethlehem homeowners were told they will enjoy a $600 tax cut."Maybe it's our lucky day today," she said.Barbara Wittwer, 86, tugged at her husband, who was lingering at the front counter."Come out, get out of here before they change their minds," she told Jakob. The Wittwers said they lost all their belongings in communist Romania and came to the East Coast in 1955, where Jakob worked for $1 a day as a shoemaker. Tuesday, they learned their Salisbury Township home would drop $500 intaxes.
Emotions running high among taxpayers ** On the phone, in person and onl...http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/mcall/access/2598749181.html?FMT=FT...1 of 27/22/2012 7:31 AM