Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Supreme Court Says Allegheny Must Reassess

Allegheny County must reassess the value of every property in the county. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled today that property values in the county have changed so much since the last assessment in 2002 that the numbers are no longer valid. The court stopped short of ruling that all base year systems in the state are faulty. The ruling could open the door to suits demanding new assessments being filed in nearly every other county. The decision in the Clifton et al and Pierce et al v. Allegheny County was unanimous. The justices noted that the current base year is most unfair for those who own property in poorer areas. In 2007 Allegheny County Judge R. Stanton Wettick threw out the county’s assessment system saying the use of a base year was unconstitutional. He ruled that a yearly reassessment was needed. The court disagreed saying a reassessment was needed only when the base year values and current sales values substantially diverge. It noted that has happened. The Supreme Court set an impossible reassessment deadline of March 31st 2009 based on the original case and then noted, “[R]ecognizing that the passage of time may require adjustment by the trial court, we will remand this matter to the trial court to determine Allegheny County’s progress in executing a countywide reassessment and to set a realistic timeframe for its completion.” That task now falls back into the hands of Judge Wettick. County Executive Dan Onorato based his campaign largely on support of a base year assessment. He argues that Allegheny County is put at a comparative disadvantage if the surrounding counties use a base year and Allegheny County does not. He also argues that it is too expensive and causes too much turmoil to reassess every year. Onorato has also lashed out at taxing bodies for taking what he calls a “back door windfall” every time assessments increase and millage rates are not rolled back to the point of revenue neutrality. Onorato is expected to address the ruling later today.

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