Allegheny County Council overturns proposed rule on assessment advice

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Allegheny County Council has overturned proposed rules that would allow only lawyers to be paid to represent property owners in assessment appeal hearings and will take steps to prevent such rule changes in the future.

Council on Tuesday overwhelmingly voted to throw out the rules that would have prevented certified appraisers and other real estate professionals from appearing before the Assessment Appeals and Review Board in a paid capacity. The rules passed last month would have gone into effect in 30 days unless council overturned them.

Councilman Jim Ellenbogen, who discovered the rules change in material sent to council members, led the effort to void them.

"What kind of nonsense is that?" he asked. "It's a taxpayer's right to bring whoever they want to represent them or help them."

The appeals board solicitor, David Montgomery, had said the rule was to "protect the public" because attorneys have to answer to a disciplinary board if they don't provide proper representation.

Council voted 12-1 to overturn the rules, with Heather Heidelbaugh voting "no." She said she supported throwing out the rules but expressed concern that the state Supreme Court could charge appraisers or others with practicing without a license, which it has threatened to do.

Jerry Speers, a former appeals board member who was among a half-dozen to speak against the rules, said the issue has been brought to the board regularly by the state bar association. Although he's unaware of anyone being charged, he said he would support asking the court for an exception to allow real estate professionals to represent clients at appeal hearings.

Councilman Jim Burn said the fact the proposed rules would have gone into effect unless council took action posed a problem. Council reached a consensus to change the county administrative code to require council approval for such changes.

"It's pretty bad when we have to watch our back with our own boards," Mr. Ellenbogen said.

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Ed Blazina: First Published April 2, 2013 7:15 PM


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