Clearfield County Joins Fight Against Tax Assessment Appeals

CLEARFIELD – Clearfield County is facing several significant tax assessment appeals but plans to share in the costs to fight back despite its bleak budget situation.

At Tuesday’s commissioners’ meeting, Solicitor Kim Kesner reported appeals had been filed regarding the Wal-Mart and Lowe’s stores in both Lawrence and Sandy Townships, Sandy Plaza, DuBois Mall and the vacant property owned by Weis Market in Decatur Township that was formerly occupied by County Market.

He said he’s been working on these pending tax appeals with the county’s chief assessor, solicitors for the Clearfield, DuBois and Philipsburg-Osceola Area School Districts and supervisors of the affected municipalities.

Kesner subsequently said he would request a decision by the commissioners with regards to three of the tax appeals, which included the Wal-Mart stores in both Lawrence and Sandy Townships and also the Sandy Plaza.

He said presently, the county’s market value on the Wal-Mart in Lawrence Township is $4.9 million, which equates to an assessed value of $1.22 million. However, he said Wal-Mart maintains that the assessed value should be approximately $565,000.

He said the Clearfield Area School District has taken the lead to prepare a defense and to get expert input on Wal-Mart’s appraisal, which is the basis of Wal-Mart’s position.

According to him, the district has already entered into a contract for its review and appraisal with Valbridge Property Advisors for a total of $4,000. Prior to that, the Lawrence Township supervisors agreed to pay their proportionate share of costs based upon the millage rate.

Regarding the Sandy Plaza, Kesner said the county’s current market value is $3.5 million, which equates to an assessed value of $878,000. However, the plaza’s position is that the assessed value is $317,126.

He said the DuBois Area School District has also contracted with Valbridge for review and appraisal at the cost of $5,500. He said the district received a preliminary report and decided to move forward with the value range study.

He said the Sandy Township supervisors also approved paying its proportionate share of the costs for the Sandy Plaza review and appraisal.

Kesner said the third case he would request action on was the Wal-Mart in Sandy Township. He said the school district authorized review from Valbridge here as well, and this is a particularly interesting case.

According to him, in September of 2015, a stipulation and order was entered into by the Court of Common Pleas of Clearfield County in an appeal with regards to the DuBois Wal-Mart, which was brought by the county and DuBois Area School District.

Kesner said that case, which was just litigated in 2015, established a value and now there’s another appeal. “I think I can say safely without contradiction that the district is very opposed to this present appeal and very much interested in defending against it.”

In this case, he said the county’s current assessed value is $1.7 million and Wal-Mart’s position is that it should be $767,000. He said the school district has also entered into a second agreement with Valbridge, totaling $4,000.

Pending outcome of the initial review, Kesner said it’s his belief the DuBois Area School District will defend against this appeal further.

He said the other taxing districts in all three cases have agreed to their proportionate share in the costs based upon how far the school districts go. He “strongly” recommended the county join them, and Commissioner Chairman John A. Sobel concurred.

Sobel said national chains tend to come into an area and want proper infrastructure, schools to provide a quality education to employees and their children, law enforcement to protect their business and – on top of all that – tax breaks.

He said these demands are thrusted upon local governments and taxing districts. “I think they should pay their share because it’s only fair … I think we should join this [fight] with the local school districts and municipalities.”

The commissioners subsequently approved for the county to pay its proportionate share in the costs for Valbridge Property Advisors with regards to the Wal-Marts in Lawrence and Sandy Townships and also the Sandy Plaza.

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