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County Again Appeals Assessment Plan

Allegheny County has filed an appeal with the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court and the State Supreme Court that, if approved, would put a halt to plans to send out property tax assessments to Pittsburgh residents by the end of the month. County Solicitor Michael Wojcik told Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Judge R. Stanton Wettick during a status conference on Monday morning that he would be filing the appeal.

The appeal makes three arguments. The first is that Judge Wettick overstepped his bounds in deciding to force the County Assessor to finish assessing properties within the city of Pittsburgh before finishing the assessment of the rest of the county. "There is no authority in the law to do that," said Wojcik, "the judge is wrong on his inherent powers."

Assessments are to be sent to individual homeowners on December 19th. Commercial property owners would see their assessments in January. A successful appeal could slow those release dates.

The second argument in the appeal is based on the Chief Assessor's admission that about 17,000 properties in the city are improperly assessed. The properties sit on steep slopes, and their values should be discounted because they are hard to develop. "If we had more time to finish this process, you know we are working on the judge's schedule not the chief assessor's schedule (the assessment professional), we could catch that and fix it before assessment even go out," said Wojcik.

The final argument made in the appeal is that the judge's decision to roll out assessments bit by bit is overly burdensome to the county and takes away an important step in the appeals process, where the assessor's office can make changes in the values of entire classes of properties rather than just individual parcels.

Wojcik cites the example of two neighbors with similar properties. One appeals the value of his home based on a neighborhood trait and wins a lower evaluation, while the other one does not appeal and is stuck with the higher rate. If the informal appeals process were left in place, the assessor's office would be able to lower the values of everyone in the neighborhood before final values are set.

It is unclear if the courts will take up the appeal in time to halt the first wave of assessment notices.