Allegheny County challenges use of expert property appraisals

Assessment appeals board says certified testimonies do not need to be taken as fact

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Think you know what your house is worth because you paid for a certified appraisal? Don't expect an assessment appeals officer to take your side, Allegheny County says.

In briefs filed Tuesday with support from the county, the Allegheny County Board of Property Assessment Appeals and Review challenged the claims of 11 property owners who say they paid for certified appraisals in advance of appealing their property assessments. They say those appraisals should automatically be accepted as their home's assessed value when the county, their town or their school district failed to submit any evidence to the contrary.

Not so, says property appeals board attorney David Montgomery. He contends the property owners never cited Pennsylvania law to support many of their claims and misread other cases to fit their agenda.

The basic disagreement: Hearing officers aren't required to accept an expert's testimony as fact, he wrote. He cited a previous case in which the courts warned that requiring an official to accept the testimony of a single expert without question would remove the need for the official altogether.

"Expert testimony which is competent, credible and unrebutted evidence must be given weight," Mr. Montgomery wrote. "However, it is not true that it must be accepted wholly."

He also challenged the homeowners' claim that their rights were violated when they didn't receive a copy of the hearing officer's official report. Those reports are already public record, the board wrote, and nothing is stopping a homeowner from requesting them.

And to top it off, Mr. Montgomery accused the plaintiffs of jumping ahead in line by filing the class-action suit, leaping into court before exhausting all other options. Technically, the residents must file individual appeals on their tax assessments in Common Pleas Court before taking the case further.

"The requested relief ... would completely undermine the administrative process," he wrote.

County solicitor Andrew Szefi has another concern. While the 11 residents labor through the class-action lawsuit, they're missing deadlines to appeal their cases individually.

If they lose the class-action case, they could lose their individual appeals, too, he said.

"There is a deadline for filing of their appeal, and I wouldn't want anyone to miss their appeal," he said.

Common Pleas Judge R. Stanton Wettick Jr. refused the group's request for an immediate injunction, and the suit is proceeding as a regular case.

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Andrew McGill: amcgill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1497.


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