A Post-Gazette editorial has taken the position that "the last thing Allegheny County should be doing" is allowing owners and taxing bodies to negotiate settlements instead of conducting formal appeals ("Unfairness Returns: The Assessment System Has Two Sets of Rules," Nov. 19). I applaud this practice. My criticism is that it should have started at the beginning of the assessment process, not toward the end. It is exactly what should have been done many months ago and if it had been implemented sooner it would have saved the taxpayers and homeowners thousands of dollars.
Our office has handled more than 1,200 assessment appeals already and the unfairness and inefficiency in the equity of the assessment process is appalling. There have been hundreds of examples where the taxpayer has presented appraisals or uncontroverted evidence of comparable sales and the school district has presented no evidence to the contrary and yet for some reason the appeals have been denied and "no change" orders issued.
I recently had a case involving two abandoned buildings in the city of Pittsburgh where the assessments were increased from several hundred thousand dollars to $1 million. Despite uncontroverted testimony that the buildings had been abandoned for several years and the demolition contract has been negotiated and despite the fact that the city school district solicitor agreed that the buildings were extremely overassessed, this evidence was ignored and we received a "no change" order.
As the result of many similar decisions of assessment appeals, homeowners have been forced to file an appeal which results in a $106 filing fee and in most cases have to retain an attorney to represent them in Common Pleas Court.
Once an assessment appeal goes to Common Pleas Court chances are 99 out of 100 that the case will eventually be settled and compromised by the taxing body and by the homeowner or the homeowner's attorney. Wouldn't it have been nice if the settlement process would have been put in place months ago, so the homeowner could have saved the $106 filing fee. Most of the appeals would have been concluded so the school districts and municipalities could now properly set their budgets for 2013 and the courts would not be burdened with appeals that will eventually be settled.
ROBERT N. PEIRCE JR.
Robert Peirce & Associates
The writer is a lawyer.