Judge delays use of new property values

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The good news for Allegheny County homeowners is while Common Pleas Judge Stanton Wettick has ordered the county to continue the 2012 property reassessment, he has delayed the use of the new valuations until next year. The 2002 property values will again be used for county, municipal and school tax bills.

Wettick’s order came in response to a request from the Pittsburgh Public School District, which sought the delay to assure successful appeals did not leave it with a large hole in its budget.

“It’s too risky,” Wettick said when announcing his decision Jan. 12. “School districts could lose a lot of money.”

So, while homeowners will not see their municipal and school taxes increase due to higher valuations, they will see a 21 percent increase in their county tax bill as a result of the 1-mill increase passed by Allegheny County Council in December. Had the new assessment numbers been used, the tax increase would have been limited to 5 percent by state anti-windfall laws.

Wettick’s order is designed to allow all assessment appeals to be completed before school districts set their budgets for next year, but the appeals timetable is still somewhat muddled.

The order also directs appeal hearings for the City of Pittsburgh and Mt. Oliver, the two municipalities where all residents have received their new assessments, to begin Feb. 1, and residents have until Feb. 24 to file an appeal.

No appeals timetable has been set for residents outside the city because nearly 16,000 properties are still to be reassessed, so those residents don’t even have the 2012 valuations yet. While Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said he was pleased that Wettick allowed the 2002 values to stand one more year, he said city residents are getting short changed in the appeal process.

“Pittsburgh residents are once again put between a rock and a hard spot as the county and courts argue to re-establish time frames for appealing the 2012 assessment numbers” he said “It appears that Pittsburgh home and business owners, many of whom are seniors on fixed-incomes, are forced to follow an appeal process stripped of informal reviews. County taxpayers who live outside of the city will be given much more time to put together their appeals.”

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said he didn’t even know if there would be an informal appeals process. He ordered informal appeals cancelled when he declared the 2012 number “null and void” a week earlier.

Wettick, who is scheduled to meet with county officials Jan. 19 for an update on the remaining assessment work and to devise a timetable for formal appeals, said he does not want “informals” getting in the way of completing the formal appeals process.

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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