Judge refuses to lower property assessments in poorer communities
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The judge overseeing Allegheny County's contentious property reassessment project today turned down a request to reduce the new real estate values in poorer communities.
New assessed values developed late last year and early this year are scheduled to go into effect for calculating property taxes on Jan. 1. Common Pleas Court Senior Judge R. Stanton Wettick Jr. turned down a request from lawyer Don Driscoll to reduce values in poorer communities because they remain unfairly high.
Mr. Driscoll argued that an independent expert's study of the county's reassessment effort showed bias remained against lower-valued properties. The result is that people in poorer communities would continue to pay a disproportionate share of property taxes after reassessment, he said.
He asked the court last month to order lower values for several hundred thousand properties.
Mr. Driscoll had filed one of the original lawsuits that led the state Supreme Court to order a county-wide revaluation.
Judge Wettick wrote that the Supreme Court had limited his authority to just making sure that the county carried out the order to revalue properties. "It does not provide for judicial oversight with respect to issues regarding the fairness of a reassessment," he wrote.
Mr. Driscoll said he was reviewing the judge's decision.
"It is our opinion that the judge does have the authority and duty to ensure that the [state] constitution is complied with," he said. "The thrust of our case is to achieve uniform assessments."
The basis for Mr. Driscoll's original suit was that the lack of reassessments since 2002 resulted in properties in richer communities gaining in value and poorer communities dropping in value with no change in their tax liability. He maintains the new assessments did not correct the problem but said today he had not decided on any future steps.
County Solicitor Andrew Szefi said he was not surprised by judge's ruling in favor of the county's position. "The county is not happy with anything connected with reassessment, but we are pleased that the judge did not allow Mr. Driscoll to reverse engineer the results," he said.
First Published November 19, 2012 5:59 pm