Mohegan Sun Pocono casino’s new property assessment contested

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - | August 1st, 2016 8:06 pm

The owner of the Mohegan Sun Pocono casino has filed an assessment appeal, arguing Luzerne County’s new $152.5 million tax assessment on the Plains Township complex is too high.

Wilkes-Barre Area School District officials also filed an assessment challenge, maintaining the value is too low, district Solicitor Ray Wendolowski said Monday.

Both sides will have the chance to argue their cases in a hearing before the county’s assessment appeal board, likely in September, said county Assessment Director Anthony Alu.

The three-member citizen appeal board typically keeps large commercial and industrial assessments intact, due to the complexity of these cases. Both the property owner and school district will have the right to appeal the board’s decision to the county Court of Common Pleas.

Owned by Connecticut-based Downs Racing LP, the casino needed an assessment because its past real estate tax payments were flat dollar amounts hammered out through a court agreement that expired the end of 2015.

The casino paid a total $2.9 million to the three taxing bodies last year, with $2.01 million going to Wilkes-Barre Area, $653,360 to the county and $261,460 to Plains Township.

With the new value, the casino will pay a total $3.71 million: $2.57 million to the school district, $876,370 to the county and $269,980 to the township, based on current tax rates.

Wendolowski declined to pinpoint a value he considers fair but said he’s confident Mohegan Sun’s assessment should be increased based on his initial review of other casino assessments.

“There’s some disconnect there,” he said of the county’s value.

Wilkes-Barre Area likely will complete an expert appraisal as part of its challenge, Wendolowski said.

A Mohegan Sun representative could not be reached for comment Monday on the appeal plans.

Plains Township officials have not yet discussed the pending appeals and whether they want to get involved, said township Solicitor Stephen Menn.

The Mohegan Sun complex includes four parcels totaling 264 acres with a hotel/convention center and other amenities.

The county hired Media, Pennsylvania-based Coyle, Lynch & Company for $56,000 to complete an appraisal for the new assessed value. The company may be paid additional hourly fees ranging from $100 to $350 to prepare and provide testimony and attend assessment challenge hearings, its county contract says.

Mohegan Sun’s new assessment makes the casino the second highest valued commercial property in the county, preceded only by Talen Energy’s Susquehanna nuclear power plant in Salem Township, formerly operated by PPL, which has a $248 million assessment.

Wendolowski said the casino is the highest valued property in his school district, followed by the Wyoming Valley Mall in Wilkes-Barre Township, which is assessed at $76.1 million.

The school district has taken an aggressive stance as a taxing body, contesting assessments to push for higher values — a process known as a “reverse appeal.”

The district has about a dozen pending reverse appeals, including one challenging the value of the Wyoming Valley Mall, Wendolowski said.

The new assessment of the Mohegan Sun Pocono casino in Plains Township has been contested. new assessment of the Mohegan Sun Pocono casino in Plains Township has been contested.

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.