Fitzgerald wants Allegheny County assessment appeals in 2013

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Allegheny County property owners will get another chance to challenge their new assessments this year if council approves a one-time-only change to the administrative code.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald has proposed legislation that would allow property owners -- and taxing bodies -- to appeal new real estate values. Those assessments, replacing 2002 base-year numbers, will be used to calculate 2013 property taxes levied by the county, school districts and municipalities.

While the county code ordinarily allows annual assessment appeals, they are not permitted in the year when the new numbers take effect. That is because property owners already had two chances, via informal and formal appeals, to question their new values.

Without the proposed legislation, property owners would have to wait until 2014 to mount another challenge to the new values.

"We wanted to be consistent," Mr. Fitzgerald said. "People should have a chance to appeal whether it is a reassessment year or not." County council passed similar legislation after the last countywide reassessment in 2002, he said.

Mr. Fitzgerald's proposed amendment drew quick support from county council President Charles Martoni. "We want to give people every opportunity to appeal their new assessments," he said Thursday. "This whole process has been so screwed up."

Mr. Martoni is chairman of council's government reform committee. The committee will meet next week to review and make a recommendation on Mr. Fitzgerald's proposed legislation. No date has been set yet for the committee meeting.

The proposed change to the county code would set an appeal deadline of April 1 for this year only. The amendment would override the current rule that says "appeals of any assessment shall be filed with the Appeals Board by the 31st day of March in the year preceding the implementation of a Countywide revaluation or reassessment."

Few issues in the county's history have been as contentious as the reassessment ordered by the state Supreme Court after several property owners successfully argued that the base-year system was fatally flawed. County officials reluctantly undertook a $15.6 million project, which was supervised by Senior Common Pleas Judge R. Stanton Wettick Jr.

The latest version of the reassessment numbers showed property values have risen an average of 32 percent for the county as a whole over the past decade. That number does not reflect the likely effects of successful appeals, especially on large commercial properties. Many of those challenges have not yet been resolved.

While property owners will have to pay taxes this year based on their new values, they would qualify for refunds if their appeals ultimately result in lowered assessments.

Property owners unsatisfied with their new values had two chances to appeal their new assessments last year. The result was almost 65,000 informal and more than 100,000 formal appeals. If council approves the change to the county code, residents would get a chance this year to challenge their new values, whether or not they appealed in 2012.

The proposed legislation also opens the door for school districts to question new property values as being too low. Some property owners have long complained that some taxing authorities, especially suburban school districts, are too aggressive in challenging assessments.

"The opportunity to appeal would be open to everybody," confirmed Amie Downs, a spokeswoman for Mr. Fitzgerald. "Taxing bodies certainly would have that right."

region - neigh_west - neigh_north - neigh_east - neigh_south

Len Barcousky: lbarcousky@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1159.


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