A Pivot to Reassessment Phone Hearings

April 30, 2020 by Meredith Trimble

A Pivot to Reassessment Phone Hearings

The property assessment process is critical for equitably funding services that keep communities running. This process naturally includes hearings during which property owners address concerns regarding their value notices. These activities are necessary to fund essential community services, but disruption by COVID-19 presents significant challenges.

In Delaware County, Pennsylvania, for example, the pandemic gained steam during week two of a ten-week schedule of informal assessment hearings. With local government offices closing to protect staff and the public from the virus, four hearing sites were set to shut their doors. To continue operations safely, county officials made a quick move from an in-person to all phone hearing schedule.

While the decision was quick, logistics were not simple. In order to use cell phones and IAS remote access to conduct property reviews, 27 VPNs had to be created and tested for remote employees. Property owners involved in the hearings had to be notified of the changes. And everything needed to happen quickly, as the effective date to implement the new plan was only four days away.

County officials announced the closure of hearing sites and the switch to phone hearings during a live press conference. Residents with scheduled hearings were further notified by robocall messages and push notifications via text. These communication efforts worked astoundingly well, as during the first week of phone hearings, not one resident arrived for an in-person meeting.

During that first week, some hearing officers remained in office to complete the transition and establish and test remote connections. Staff identified and resolved hardware needs and created a new process for tracking and resolving reviews in IAS. Hearing officers attended a training webinar, and one staff member alone created the full remote appointment schedule.

By the fourth week of hearings, 17 hearing officers were operating remotely, and more than 5,500 phone appointments were completed, comprising 67% of the full schedule. “The biggest challenges were scrapping a plan that took months of preparation for a new plan in under 24 hours,” said John VanZelst, Delaware County tax assessment manager. “Creating and testing nearly 30 remote accounts and making sure everyone received the same training in just 72 hours was something I would not have thought possible.”

The rewards, however, were great. Quick action led to nearly seamless service continuity for the county’s main source of revenue. Delaware County staff attended to property owners and reached agreements, all while protecting the community’s safety.

For more examples of innovation in response to COVID-19, visit Tyler’s Resource Center.

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