As it stands, Lansford Borough Council President Adam Webber owes a total of $69,685.73 in property taxes to the Panther Valley School District, Carbon County and Lansford Borough on the former middle school, which he bought for $150 in March of 2009.
Webber is challenging those figures, saying the $1,994,100 Fair Market Value on which they are based is way too high. Instead, he wants to use the $97,580 an appraiser for the school district arrived at three years ago. That figure included both the building and its adjacent parking lot.
"I feel that value might be over-inflated," he said of the county's figure.
Webber said outside the hearing that the "county Recorder of Deeds Receipt will show that the deed was transferred under reclamation. This sets the tax basis on the $150 that was paid for the building. In no way am I saying that a value of $150 should be the assessed value placed on the building and lot. As this would be the case in other reclaimed buildings."
The county Tax Assessment Appeals board heard Webber's arguments on Thursday and expects to rule within 30 days. School board solicitor Robert T. Yurchak attended the hearing on the district's behalf. There was no representation from the borough or from the county.
After the hearing, Webber said he will take appeals board member Thomas McCall's advice and hire his own appraiser for a fresh estimate of the massive building's value. The last it was appraised was by the school district in 2008.
The district had closed the three-story building, with a 16,176-square-foot footprint, in 2007 because it would be too expensive to repair and bring up to current government standards. It then built a $17.5 million middle school behind its high school along Route 209 between Lansford and Nesquehoning. Lansford council in June 2007 voted to acquire the building, but the school district had embarked on a plan to sell the property to Rite Aid. That proposal fell through.
Webber bought the former school, at 15 E. Bertsch St., in March 2009 for $150. His was the sole offer in the school board's two rounds of bidding for the building. At the time, he said he wanted to turn the building over to the borough. However, later that year, the borough's feasibility studies revealed it was not financially doable.
At the time, the building was in a Keystone Opportunity Zone, and so exempt from most taxes. But that status ended as of Dec. 31. Webber applied for an extension in June 2009, but although the county and borough agreed to grant one, the school board rejected his request. The approval of all three taxing bodies was needed for the extension.
On Thursday, he told the appeals board that he has patched the roof and done some cleanup, but that his progress he's doing it by himself in fixing up the building to lease to businesses and for community events was moving slowly.
"It's a harder sell than I thought," he said.
According to the county Tax Assessment Office, the building's taxable value is assessed at $733,125. As of now, Webber would owe $40,827.73 to the Panther Valley School District; $23,804.57 to the borough of Lansford and $5,053.43 to the county.