Washington County reluctantly moves toward reassessment

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They didn't want to do it, but today, the Washington County commissioners made clear they are moving forward with court-ordered, countywide property reassessments.

And they are using the same private firm Allegheny County used to do its own reassessments.

Commission Chairman Larry Maggi, joined by Vice Chairman Diana Irey Vaughan and Commissioner Harlan G. Shober, Jr., announced at a news conference in Washington this morning that Tyler Technologies will be awarded a $6.9 million contract to assess the value of about 115,000 properties.

"We are confident in our selection of the awardee of the contract and their abilities to provide good assessment services," Mr. Maggi said. "We are not confident, however, that reassessment will be in the best interest of those we serve."

The contract will be awarded at a commissioners board meeting Thursday morning. The announcement comes at the end of a long battle waged by the commissioners against reassessment in the county, a process they believe will burden taxpayers with its cost as well as result in higher property taxes for some.

Washington County has not conducted a reassessment since 1981. This reassessment was set in motion five years ago, when the McGuffey and Washington school districts sued the county, saying the system in place was unfair and outdated.

The commissioners have fought against reassessment, but in April, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court declined to hear the commissioners' appeal to stop it. That decision preserved an order mandating reassessments that was handed down by Washington County Court.

After searching for a firm to conduct the reassessments, the commissioners settled on Tyler Technologies, which offered the lowest of the three bids.

County officials said today that their contract with Tyler Technologies contains some differences from the way the reassessments were handled in Allegheny County. Tyler will be responsible for both collecting data about taxable properties and for issuing reassessment values.

Also, the inevitable appeal process will consist of two steps. Prior to final property values being issued, homeowners will be able to meet informally with the assessors to argue their position, a step that county Solicitor Mary Lyn Drewitz said could prevent the occurrence of a situation seen in the Allegheny County assessments, such as when some empty lots were over-valued.

Once reassessments are completed, expected by July 1, 2016, property owners can make a formal appeal through the county.

Mr. Maggi, while expressing his confidence in Tyler Technologies to do the reassessment, reiterated that he was "not going to be a cheerleader for it."

"We've got economic development," he said. "We've got people moving here. We've got one of the lowest taxes in southwestern Pennsylvania. Why do we want to fool with that?"

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Kaitlynn Riely: kriely@post-gazette.com. This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to: http://press.post-gazette.com/


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