Help soon should be coming for property owners waiting to appeal their Lehigh County reassessments.
On June 13, county commissioners will vote on creating two temporary appeal boards to help the county beat a Nov. 1 legal deadline to hear all appeals.
“If we get two more boards, it definitely will happen,” said Commissioner Percy Dougherty, who is sponsoring the proposed ordinance creating the boards.
The county now has only one 3-member appeals board. With just that board, said Dougherty, it would take nearly 64 weeks to hear all the appeals “and we only have 21 weeks until the deadline. That’s why we’re looking at two [additional] boards.”
Dougherty wants county residents to have “quick and fair hearings on their assessment appeals.” At least one of the two temporary boards could start hearing appeals well before the end of June.
At Wednesday night’s commissioners meeting, Dougherty said the county anticipates up to 4,000 formal appeals – 2,700 residential and 1,300 commercial. He said each residential appeal takes about 20 minutes, while each commercial appeal takes about 45 minutes. He explained residential appeals can be heard by just one member of the appeals board, but commercial appeals must be heard by all three members.
“Since the administration was a little reluctant to go ahead with the reassessment and we pushed the deal, I think it’s only fair that we provide the funds and the personnel to handle the appeals,” Dougherty told his fellow commissioners.
No other commissioners had any comment on the proposal during the meeting.
The county’s administration is asking commissioners to establish two auxiliary appeal boards, with three members on each, plus two alternate members to serve if needed. All appeal board members will be appointed by the county executive and confirmed by commissioners.
“I hope we can short circuit the whole deal and bring forward names for at least one of these appeals committees at the next meeting,” said Dougherty after Wednesday’s meeting. “It would be nice if can get two set up, but we’re definitely shooting for the one.” He said the usual procedure is to have appointees first considered for confirmation by the commissioners’ Intergovernmental and Appointments Committee before considered by all the commissioners.
“Several names have been submitted already,” said Dougherty.
He said those appointed will have backgrounds in real estate assessment, adding the county already has reached out to the community to find qualified people.
After some initial training, he said, that first board will start working “immediately.”
Dougherty said those selected will work about 20 hours a week. They will be paid about $24 an hour, with no benefits. “They will not be on the county payroll as employees.”
He indicated adding the temporary boards may cost as much as $30,000, which will come out of the county’s general fund.