Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Judge Orders Four Phase Reassessment

Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Judge R. Stanton Wettick has issued an opinion that Allegheny County shall launch a reassessment of all 540,000 properties beginning next year for use in 2011. The opinion calls for the Allegheny County officials to “…divide the county into four Assessment Districts. An entire school district and an entire municipality must be placed in the same Assessment District.” Each of those districts should have approximately the same number of properties. The county then must reassess the first District by October 1, 2011 for use by school districts and municipalities in the 2012 tax year. That value would then stay in place until the 2014 tax year. The judge asked the county to select the first District based on how far out of assessment the properties in the district have become since the last assessment in 2002. The second district would have to be assessed by Oct. 1, 2012 for use in 2013 and the assessment would remain in effect until 2015. The remaining two districts would follow the same pattern with the first assessments being completed by Oct. 1, 2013 and 2014. The county will continue to use the 2002 base year until all of the properties have been assessed. That allows for state uniformity laws to be followed. After the 4-year cycle is complete the ruling is tacit on how the county should proceed. Robert Junker is a lawyer with the Law Offices of Ira Weiss, which argued against the county’s base year system on behalf of property owners who felt they were being overtaxed. He says he thinks the judge is hoping the state will step forward by 2015 with new statewide assessment guidelines. Junker says his firm was initially not happy with the ruling because it was hoping for a faster remedy. However, he says they are pleased that this is moving forward with some sort of deadline and he does not expect an appeal. County Executive Dan Onorato has asked his legal department to review the opinion and will make a statement Monday. The county solicitor said in court that the county was awaiting a solution from the judge and would do whatever it takes to live up to his ruling. All involved parties are to be in court again December 2nd to discuss how the districts will be formed. Junker notes that there is nothing in the opinion that forces the districts to be contiguous. The county could pick municipalities from different parts of the county and place them in each district. The judge did leave the door open to listening to ideas from the county.

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