Reassessment disparities found in the county's southern suburbs

'I do not know what could have led to that kind of increase.'

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Dormont council President Bill McCartney said he wondered whether different assessment teams -- using different standards -- revalued properties in his borough and in neighboring Mt. Lebanon.

Property values in Dormont rose 52 percent, according to new reassessment statistics. In Mt. Lebanon, where many observers would have predicted higher assessment increases, values rose 30 percent.

"I have no explanation for that difference," Mr. McCartney said. Mt. Lebanon and Dormont each are fully built-out communities, meaning the difference in aggregate values was not the result of large amounts of new construction.

Residents have begun to compare their reassessments, and many are finding little logic in the new numbers, he said. "On my street, our house is larger than our neighbor's and has a two-car garage," he said. "Both were built in the same year, and his was reassessed at $40,000 more than ours."

The Mt. Lebanon increase tracks the average for the county's southern suburbs. That value rose 31 percent there between 2002 -- the last full assessment to be implemented -- and 2011, according to the new statistics. The new values will be used in 2013, after residents have a chance to appeal if they think numbers are inaccurate.

That increase for southern municipalities reflects a 25 percent increase in the value of residential property and 53 percent increase in the value of commercial properties.

The figures released by the Office of Property Assessments as part of its revaluation of real estate across the county show the aggregate value of taxable parcels in the south rising from $15.3 billion to $20 billion.

That 31 percent overall increase is well below the 58 percent increase in the aggregate property value for Pittsburgh. The total value of taxable real estate there rose from $13.5 billion to $21.3 billion, according to county appraisal numbers.

The jump in the value of property in the southern suburbs, however, was above the 26 percent overall increase reported for the county's eastern suburbs. That value rose from $10 billion to $12.6 billion.

The southern suburbs include communities as diverse as Jefferson, where aggregate value rose 33 percent, and Munhall, where property values rose 15 percent.

The state Supreme Court ordered Allegheny County to reassess after justices concluded that the county's 2002 base-year system was over-taxing residents of many poorer communities. The justices relied on evidence that property values didn't accurately reflect declines in poorer communities or increases in wealthier communities.

Reassessment was supposed to redistribute that tax burden more fairly.

As was the case in the eastern suburbs, however, assessments rose faster in some poorer and middle-income communities in the South Hills and Mon Valley than in some wealthier ones.

The aggregate value of property in Bridgeville, for example, rose 42 percent, while total value in more affluent Upper St. Clair rose 22 percent.

In almost every community in the southern suburbs, assessment increases were much higher on commercial properties than on residences.

In Bridgeville, for example, commercial assessments rose 51 percent while residential values were up 40 percent.

In several other communities, officials were stunned by the size of the commercial increases. In West Elizabeth, commercial values rose 112 percent. "It's unreal," council Vice President Frank Magill said of the new values.

In Rosslyn Farms, commercial values almost tripled, up 184 percent. "I do not know what could have led to that kind of increase," Councilman Steve George said. There has been no major commercial or industrial development in what is primarily a community of owner-occupied, single-family homes, he said.

Lawyer Don Driscoll, who represented some of the property owners who sued the county over the base-year system, said he hoped to find answers to questions about the accuracy of the $11 million reassessment project in the next few days.

The county has promised to turn over data to him today with details on how the assessment was carried out. Mr. Driscoll, in turn, will pass that information to an independent evaluator.

Len Barcousky: or 412-263-1159. First Published February 28, 2012 5:00 AM


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