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Homeowners Express Anger, Confusion at Reassessments Meeting

Learn why Allegheny County properties were reassessed, how they were reassessed and what you need to know to file an appeal.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald estimated 500 residents attended Thursday night's town hall meeting on the new assessments.

Fitzgerald and Allegheny County Councilman Vince Gastgeb organized the informational meeting at Bethel Park High School for South Hills residents confused about the county's reassessments.

Many people in attendance said they were angry and wanted answers.

An single mother told Fitzgerald and the crowd that her assessment increased by 60 percent and she was no longer going to be able to afford her house.

Another Upper St. Clair resident expressed his disgust that, in his research, he found many high-end homes in the township were under assessed and many lower-end homes were over assessed.

Fitzgerald acknowledged the inequities, but said the county had no plans to spend more tax dollars to appeal any of the new assessed values. He said the county was already forced to spend $11 million in tax dollars for the new court-ordered assessments.

"How can any property not be assessed for the sale price?" one resident asked.

"Because they (the assessors) make mistake after mistake after mistake," Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald, Gastgeb and the other politicians at the meeting, including Allegheny County Councilman John DeFazio, Allegheny Councilwoman Heather Heidelbaugh and state Rep. Mark Mustio, encouraged all residents who disagreed with their new assessments to file a formal appeal by April 2.

Residents can always cancel the appeal if they change their minds before their scheduled hearing, but they won't be able to file an appeal after April 2.

"If you don't appeal anything you're going to be stuck with what you have," DeFazio said.

Fitzgerald said 50,000 property owners have already filed for appeals.

Many residents are seeing mistakes in their land value.

"While the whole system is screwed up, nothing is more screwed up than the land values," Fitzgerald said. "There seems to be no rhyme or reason to determining land values. It's puzzling and frustrating."

Why Properties Are Being Reassessed
Taxpayers of Allegheny County sued the county alleging that the use of the base-year system was unconstitutional and resulted in unfair values so that some taxpayers were paying more than their fair share, while others paid less. As a result of the lawsuit, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered Allegheny County to complete a reassessment of all properties and directed the Court of Common Pleas to oversee the process.

Court-ordered reassessment values will not go into effect until 2013.

How the Reassessment Values Were Calculated
First, physical information on each property was gathered. A team of county employees drove or walked by all 560,000 properties and compared the existing picture and information to what they saw at each parcel. From the street, they corrected differences and noted external changes.

Next was the geographical information. The assessors used municipal and school district lines as major divisions and then created "neighborhoods" to group like properties together. The smaller groupings were created to account for terrain, land type and other factors.

The assessors then looked at numerical information. Any homes that were sold between January 2009 and June 2010 were taken into account if they sold at a fair market value. A computer analysis was run in each "neighborhood" to show recent sales of comparable homes in that assessment "neighborhood."

Three Key Questions

1. Is your property information correct?
Make sure your property information online is correct. Look at the number of bedrooms, bathrooms, square footage, etc. Click here to find your property information online where you can submit the changes necessary. Make sure to check all of the information tabs at the top and submit corrections for each one if needed.

Any changes to text in green may or may not be verified by a county assessor. A county assessor will verfiy any changes made to red text. Changes that need to be made in black fields may be noted in the comments section.

2. Could you sell your property at the new assessed value?
If your answer is no, file a formal appeal.

3. Are you being treated equally?
Look under the comparables tab on your assessment page. The comparables are homes similar to yours that had valid sales between Jan. 1, 2009 and June 30, 2010.

Make sure the comparables are in fact similar to your home. If your property is assessed higher than the designated comparables, you should file a formal appeal.

If you know of similar homes sold for less that aren't listed in the comparables, bring evidence to your formal hearing. The newer the information, the stronger your case.

How To File a Formal Appeal
Click here to download the form you will have to mail in.

Prepare to bring evidence to your hearing. Photo evidence of the condition or physical characteristics of your property is helpful. Mortgage documents showing recent sale of your property (2008 or later is better) establish market value. Recent sales of comparable properties reflect value.

Some other options are a certified appraisal or sketch, but keep in mind they are optional and you may incur a cost.

Whatever you bring to the hearing, make sure you have three copies of everything for each of the taxing bodies—you municipality, your school district and the county.

At the hearing, no decision will be made. The hearing officers will make recommendations to the Board of Property Assessment & Review.

The board will review the recommendation and make a decision. It may raise, lower or leave your assessment the same. You and the taxing bodies will be notified by the decision in writing.

If you do not agree with the decision, you have the right to appeal with the Court of Common Pleas within 30 days, which would cost a non-refundable filing fee of $103.

Anti-Windfall Law
There is a Pennsylvania law in place that requires millage rates to be adjusted so that your municipality, school district and county does not reap a windfall from the new values.

A reduction in millage rate will not automatically mean a reduction in taxes for you since it is a reduction to the overall millage rate, not to individual properties.

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