Mohegan Sun Pocono casino tax assessment expected in March

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - | January 19th, 2016 7:07 pm

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

A property assessment for the Mohegan Sun Pocono casino in Plains Township should be completed in March, Luzerne County officials say. property assessment for the Mohegan Sun Pocono casino in Plains Township should be completed in March, Luzerne County officials say.

The Mohegan Sun Pocono casino’s new tax assessment should be calculated by the end of March, Luzerne County officials say.

There’s no current assessment for the Plains Township casino because its tax payments were covered by a 2007 court-ordered assessment appeal agreement that expired the end of 2015. That agreement wasn’t tied to an assessed value.

The county assessor’s office did not have a casino valuation ready when the court order expired because it had to find a new expert.

County officials had retained San Francisco-based HVS Gaming in October to complete a valuation but canceled the contract last month after discovering the company had previously completed appraisal work for another casino affiliated with Mohegan Sun in Connecticut.

This prior work could present a conflict of interest if the county needed HVS to provide expert testimony in a court-level assessment challenge that may be filed by the local Mohegan Sun casino, officials said. Mohegan Sun alerted the county to the potential conflict.

County Budget/Finance Division Head Brian Swetz said Tuesday the administration has been negotiating a contract with the company that had ranked second in the county’s public search process. He declined to identify the company until a contract is in place.

Acting county Manager C. David Pedri said he expects a contract will be signed within a few days.

The company the county plans to hire estimates it will take 45 to 65 days to complete field work and research, develop an opinion of value and generate a report, Swetz said.

County Assessment Office Director Anthony Alu said the delay won’t allow the casino to escape taxation in 2016.

Most county and municipal tax bills will be mailed early next month, but the casino bill will be in a special batch of additional bills mailed in May or September, depending on when the new value is completed, he said.

Regardless of the mailing date, the casino’s tax bill will be retroactive to Jan. 1, Alu said.

The casino will have the right to file a challenge within 40 days of receiving the new assessment, Alu said.

County officials wanted input from an outside expert because casino valuations are complicated. Several other Pennsylvania counties with casinos have used a a similar approach.

Mohegan Sun ’s current tax payment —a combined $2.9 million to the school, county and township — was not linked to a specific assessment, but a property charged that amount of taxes would be valued around $125 million based on current tax rates.

The breakdown of the $2.9 million payment: Wilkes-Barre Area School District, $2.01 million; county, $653,360; and township, $261,460.

Prior county manager Robert Lawton has said he did not expect a significant windfall in tax payments from the new casino assessment, but county Councilman Stephen A. Urban has said the county should receive a “pretty hefty increase” because the original payment was calculated before the addition of a hotel/convention center and other amenities.

Listed under Connecticut-based Downs Racing LP, the Mohegan Sun complex is 264 acres.

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