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LAWRENCE COUNTY Project uncovers unassessed homes



Published: Sun, June 10, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



An official said the county probably won't pursue back taxes against those who built new homes and didn't pay taxes on them.

By LAURE CIOFFI

VINDICATOR NEW CASTLE BUREAU

NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- Data collectors working on Lawrence County's reassessment project found a little more than they anticipated: About 2,380 more homes and 50 more structures on farms than expected.

"We collected [information on] more homes than what we originally thought were out there," said Mike Roth, director of the reassessment project for Dayton-based Manatron Sabre Systems.

They were looking for 33,500 homes and found 35,880, and on farms they expected to find 1,900 structures but ended up with 1,950, he said.

Not surprised: Lawrence County Assessment Director Mary Bullano said she wasn't surprised by the finds.

Many of the structures not accounted for in the county's original contract with Manatron/Sabre Systems were built after the county signed the contract for work in 1999, she said.

However, there were a few homes that had been built in the 1990s that had never been assessed by the county, she said. The property owners were only paying property taxes on the land, not the homes, which increases the value.

There were at least two homes in Plain Grove Township and another two in Neshannock Township, she said.

"We probably would have never found them if it hadn't been for reassessment," Bullano said.

How they do it: She said the county assessor's office tracks new buildings through building permits issued by municipalities.

"We only follow building permits because there are only two of us that go out into the field. In most counties [our size] there are five or six people who go out and check every year. Here, every township, borough or city sends us building permits and we only check those properties," Bullano said.

Bullano suspects building permits were never issued for the homes in Plain Grove and Neshannock.

She said it's unusual that a house hasn't been reported to her office; it's usually a swimming pool or new garage that people don't report.

"What usually happens is you come by them by chance or someone reports them to us," she said.

Stricter enforcement: County Commissioner Brian Burick said the Lawrence County Council of Governments has been trying to stress the need for stricter building permit enforcement to its member communities.

"We need the townships and boroughs to be vigilant and make sure every new structure is accounted for," he said. The county, school district and municipality all lose tax dollars when new structures are not reported, he said.

He said it is unlikely that the county will pursue back taxes from those people who did not report building new homes because it will be difficult to prove how long the homes were there.

However, the municipality may be able to fine them for not obtaining a building permit before construction, he said.

Aside from the extra homes, Roth said there were few problems during that phase of data collection.

What's next: Workers are now checking on commercial and industrial properties. That should be done by September, he said.

Mantron Sabre is also working on determining values for each property by looking at recent sales and construction costs, he said.

Property owners should know their new land values sometime in spring 2002.




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