Unexploited benefits of Johnstown reval

The recently updated city of Johnstown assessment roll cured numerous inequities in the property assessment roll as the result of 25 years of inflation and untaxed real property improvements, largely a tribute to the combined efforts of our late Mayor Michael Julius and our late City Assessor Frank Parker.

More specifically, Johnstown conducted a citywide reval to cure a falling 70 percent equalization rate and restore it to a full 100 percent of fair market value. However, the job is not complete and the full benefits of the latest reval have not been achieved if the city doesn’t seize the opportunity to maintain its assessment roll at 100 percent of FMV going forward.

The late Senator Everett Dirksen once said “A million here, a million there, pretty soon, you’re talking real money.”

My cursory review of sales of Johnstown’s city properties since 2014 has identified dozens of sales transactions since the reval’s sales data was compiled in 2014 and those sales include millions of dollars of gains far exceeding the assessed values of those parcels per the 2015 final assessment roll was filed July 1, 2015.

Historically, little significant effort has been made to maintain the city’s assessment roll at 100 percent of FMV once the pending citywide revaluations were completed and the city’s taxpayers might ask why not maximize the benefits of the reval’s $220,000 cost to the city taxpayers. Every million dollars added to the city’s taxable assessment roll means the city’s tax rate per thousand of assessed value is reduced for the current property owners.

Shouldn’t the city strive to capitalize on the benefits of the recent reval and keep the equalization rate at 100 percent going forward to avoid or at least postpone the next costly citywide reval? Take the recent sale of a single commercial property in the city for a gain of nearly $1.5M more than the assessed value per the 2015 reval. Why shouldn’t the city pick up that untaxed value as documented by that recently closed sales transaction and all other sales transactions that have closed since the completion of the reval? Why wait another 25 years before repeating the citywide reval process (for a cost of perhaps $400-500K allowing for inflation) and in the meanwhile leaving millions in untaxed property values on the table for another generation or more while the city’s tax rate continues to creep up each succeeding year due largely uncontrollable and ever-escalating costs of the city’s unionized payrolls (police, firemen and public works) and related employee health insurance and other fringe benefits and that’s not even dealing with the sluggish vagaries of the unreliable sales tax revenues?

I mentioned a single real estate transaction in the city of Johnstown and there are dozens more with sizable gains albeit without such drastic implications. I’m proposing that the Johnstown Assessor’s office review the feasibility of undertaking a thorough internal review and update of the accuracy of all of the city’s current assessments. The resulting increases in the assessment roll will yield far more than enough to pay for the exercise. The city must review every parcel and treat each property, whether sold or unsold, in a fair, diligent and uniform manner; the taxpayers are entitled to nothing less.

What could be easier than to develop a routine to have the assessor’s office review the city’s real estate sales and assessments systematically and routinely adjust the assessments to FMV to avoid the hassle and expense of going through another costly citywide revaluation in the foreseeable future. This is a major undertaking on short notice for this year because of the volume of parcels, sales transactions and deed transfers – many with potential arm’s-length concerns for consideration. However, regardless of the challenge, the task should be calendared for the coming months so that the opportunity doesn’t slip away. If we need more help, remember that this is a task that is self-funding so let’s get moving and ramp up now to handle the task efficiently and fairly for all parties.

This is a potential win-win situation, so give it some thought and share some feedback with us through the newspaper, the mail, the common council meetings or via email directly to me with the subject line: City of Johnstown Assessment Updates. Long story short, the reval investment has already rendered significant returns, but we shouldn’t stop until the full benefit of the costly reval exercise is realized. Let’s optimize the value of the latest reval and keep our city’s assessments current at 100 percent of fair market value going forward.