Attorneys dispute use of appraisals in Allegheny County assessments

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Lawyers faced off this afternoon in a dispute on whether professional appraisals paid for by Allegheny County residents to challenge their property assessment should go on the books automatically.

Common Pleas Judge R. Stanton Wettick Jr. heard arguments this afternoon in a lawsuit filed by county residents who say their assessment appeals were unfairly denied.

The plaintiffs say they paid for third-party appraisers to evaluate their homes and brought those findings to the assessment appeals board -- but later found told their appraisals weren't always accepted as the property's value. Meanwhile, nobody from the county, their municipalities or their school districts brought any substantial evidence to refute their evaluations of their homes, they say.

If the taxing entity doesn't come prepared, the homeowner should win automatically, attorneys said.

"There is no due process," attorney David Huntley said. "You're throwing it out the window."

They are seeking a court order to require the county to accept a value from a certified appraiser.

County Solicitor Andrew Szefi disagreed, saying the hearing officer at an assessment appeal has the ability to reject a private appraisal if it looks fishy or is incomplete.

"We can show you a stack of appraisals that would frighten you with what they say," he said. "You bring in something that has a number on it, and this is the number? We might as well not have a hearing."

Judge Wettick said he would consider the injunction request but made no decision after the hearing.

The case is gaining momentum. Attorneys for the plaintiff say they've received many calls from potential clients looking to join the suit; several watched the proceedings Tuesday afternoon in Judge Wettick's courtroom.

And Pittsburgh City Controller Michael Lamb announced his support for the suit, submitting an affidavit in support of the preliminary injunction today. Mr.Lamb had opperated a program to help city residents challenge their assessments. Property owners filed more than 100,000 appeals of new assessments they received last year.

mobilehome - breaking - reassessment

Andrew McGill: amcgill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1497.


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