Experts asked to tweak 'regressive' Allegheny County reassessments
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The judge overseeing Allegheny County's controversial $11 million reassessment wants three experts to explore ways to reduce possible unfairness in new property values.
Common Pleas Court Senior Judge R. Stanton Wettick Jr. on Monday asked county Solicitor Andrew Szefi to get the experts together, most likely via a conference call. Their assignment will be to discuss and agree on "tweaks" to the reassessment results that would reduce "regressivity."
"Regressivity" refers to residents of less affluent communities continuing to pay proportionately more in property taxes than people in wealthier places.
Judge Wettick was responding to a request from attorney Don Driscoll for a court order that would require the county to recalculate assessments in many school districts.
The result could translate into a reduction in assessed values for as many as two-thirds of residential property owners.
Mr. Driscoll made the request after his assessment expert, Robert C. Denne, concluded that the county's new assessment numbers reflected "statistically significant regressivity."
Mr. Driscoll was one of the lawyers who sued the county to force a reassessment, and he made his latest request on behalf of two of his original clients.
The bulk of the county reassessment work was performed by an outside consultant, the Cole Layer Trumble division of Tyler Technologies. Wesley Graham, the county's acting chief assessment officer and an employee of Tyler Technologies, defended his firm's work. He told Judge Wettick that its results met International Association of Assessing Officers standards. His position was supported by a second analysis, requested by county officials, that also found that the new numbers met international standards.
Judge Wettick then asked Mr. Szefi to arrange a meeting among assessment experts.
Mr. Denne had proposed adjusting property values in less affluent communities that he predicted could bring numbers into compliance with the international standards. Statistical problems would be reduced by throwing out "extreme outliers" among property sales -- transactions that for a variety of reasons do not reflect the general market trends in a community or neighborhood -- Mr. Driscoll has said.
"If that can be done, then no one will have reason to ask me for another reassessment," Judge Wettick said.
Problems with new assessment numbers are to be corrected before the Dec. 17 deadline for the county to provide a "final and revised roll" of property values to municipal governments and school districts. The new values are scheduled to replace 2002 base-year numbers in calculating 2013 property taxes.
Separately, Mr. Graham accused the county of breaking its contract with his firm, because the county controller had not approved any payments to Tyler Technologies since December.
Controller Chelsa Wagner has been withholding $830,000 from the firm.
Brad Korinski, legal counsel for Ms. Wagner, said she was ready to approve payment for $220,000 but planned to withhold the rest until her office was sure the assessment consultant had met all the conditions in its contract with the county.
The controller's office only recently received the final documents needed to complete a project audit, he said. He compared the money being held back to the final payment owed to a roofer. "You don't pay that last amount until you are sure the new roof isn't leaking," he said.
Tyler Technologies has thus far received about $6.8 million under its reassessment contract. The amount being withheld was "a drop in the bucket," Mr. Korinski said.
First Published June 5, 2012 12:00 am