All four land categories in Chester Borough saw a decrease in value over the last year, according to assessor Ed Kerwin.
Kerwin was on hand at Tuesday evening's mayor and council meeting to discuss the rateable changes from 2012 to 2013 in the borough and explained the changes to those assembled.
Vacant land, with a total of 34 properties in the borough, and residential land, with 464 properties in the borough, saw decreases of $493,400 and $7,758,400, respectively.
"When I'm doing my reassessment, I look to see how I'm going to change the values each year residentially and it will also impact what I'm doing with the vacant land," Kerwin said. "I chose this year, based on the assessments and the improvements, I thought that they were pretty fair, so they received a slight decrease, meaning improvements, dwellings, sheds, pools."
Farmland was broken into two categories, dwellings, which had four properties, and actual farmland, which had nine properties. The former saw a decrease of $13,500 while the latter, valued at $55,800, never changes from year to year.
"The reason why these assessments came down, basically I look at the homes neighborhood by neighborhood," Kerwin said. "I looked at the listings and sales in part of 2011 and all of 2012 and I tried to make decisions on each of the neighborhoods of what I’m going to do with the assessments. It varied from neighborhood to neighborhood. I call the realtors to discuss the home."
Kerwin said the date of value is Oct. 1, 2012, and "it's as if the whole town stopped and I assessed the whole town."
Commercial land was broken into three categories, retail, industrial and multi-tailored apartments. Retail, with 143 properties, was down $294,200, there were no industrial properties and multi-tailored's three properties fell $42,400, which brought commercial's total difference to $336,600.
"This was an interesting year for commercial properties," Kerwin said. "The overall values in commercial properties decreased by $336,600.00, but it wasn't as if I left everybody's assessment the same, there was a lot of changes."
Kerwin explained the smaller commercial properties in the center of town were on the move.
"Everybody's trying to move up to Main Street; they move to a side street and eventually try to a more visible location to the public," Kerwin said. "You're going to see vacancies on Main Street as a result of landlords, what I call deferred maintenance on some of the buildings or they're just asking too much for rent. The off-Main-Street properties are doing pretty well, but the rent is high."
The total rateables came to 657 properties worth $369,085,300 in 2013 whereas the 657 properties were worth $377,687,200 in 2012, for a difference of $8,601,900 or 2.28%. There were 54 exempt properties worth $40,893,000 in 2013 compared to 54 worth $41,151,200 in 2012.
"What happened in the rateables was last year our commercial base was representing 41.6% of the total rateables, the $157,269,000," Kerwin said. "The residential and farmland and vacant land represented 58.4%. This year there's kind of a shift; the commercials are at 42.5% and [the other] is at 57.5%. So there was a slight shift regarding taxes and assessments."
Kerwin had a theory for why much of the value is down and even offered some solace.
"The sales activity that was used to determine these assessments are first looked at from Oct. 1, 2011 to Oct. 1, 2012," Kerwin said. "The assessed-value numbers are already almost six months old. You have to realize that sales prices and listings that come on the market this spring, hopefully, will be higher than all the assessments."
Kerwin added that the average home assessment for a single-family residential home was $465,000 in 2012 and now in 2013 it is $447,300.