With the deadline to file a formal appeal on assessments fast approaching, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald is holding informational meetings throughout the region.
The first was held Wednesday at Baldwin High School, and Fitzgerald held another Thursday evening at Brashear High School with Pittsburgh City Council member James Ellenbogen.
Similar meetings will be held in all 13 Allegheny County districts to help people prepare for an appeals process that many hope will lower their assessments.
The deadline to make a formal appeal on the assessments is April 2. The form to do so is available online or by visiting the Office of Property Assessments. The deadline to schedule an informal review has passed, but those who have already taken that route can still file a formal appeal.
"One judge overruled and took the policy-making away from elected officials," said Fitzgerald, who has been an outspoken opponent of the reassessments process. "We're the only county out of 67 in Pennsylvania to have a court-ordered reassessment."
Assessments will determine 2013 property taxes, but each town's by law so that local officials don't collect excess taxes.
If a property owner's 2013 court-ordered reassessment value is lower than the average of his or her municipality, school district or the county, he or she should see a reduction in the corresponding municipal, school district or county property tax in 2013.
But if a property's owner's reassessment value is higher than the average of his or her municipality, school district or the county, he or she may see an increase in the corresponding municipal, school district or county property tax in 2013.
Allegheny County's average increase is 35 percent.
Melinda Freed, a professional speaker hired by the county—and a homeowner appealing her own assessment—presented details on the reassessments and appeals process at the Baldwin meeting.
She said the No. 1 factor affecting an individual assessment is location. Also considered by county assessors were variables like square footage, lot size, age, grade, condition and number of rooms, bathrooms, fireplaces, garage spaces and more.
When deciding whether or not to appeal an assessment, Freed spoke of three key questions to consider:
- Is my property information correct? If not, you can submit changes online or call the county assessments office at 412-350-4600 to provide correct information.
- Could I sell my house for this amount? Recent sales nearby are the best evidence for this, and a real estate professional may be able to help sellers get an idea of the fair market values of their properties.
- Am I being treated fairly? Each property is assessed based on comparable properties in its area that were sold between January 2009 and March 2011. If your property is assessed higher than those other properties and is below the condition or characteristics of those properties, you should file an appeal.
If you do appeal, Freed said that the best way to prepare for an appeal hearing is to gather concrete evidence—like recent sales records, a certified appraisal, mortgage documents and photos—to present your case. She advised property owners to bring three hard copies of everything at the time of their hearings.
The formal appeals process differs from the informal reviews process. A formal appeal will be recorded, and representatives from a particular property's school district and municipality will have an opportunity to attend the appeal (as well make appeals). No decision will be made at the actual time of a hearing, as news of its outcome will be sent by mail.
Those that disagree with the outcome of their appeals can take the process higher and appeal to the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas within 30 days. The common pleas appeal costs approximately $103 for property owners, school districts and municipalities alike.
Three more town hall meetings will be held:
- April 2, 7 p.m. - CCAC Allegheny Campus, 808 Ridge Avenue, Pittsburgh
- April 4, 7 p.m. - Chartiers Valley Intermediate School, 2030 Swallow Hill Road, Scott Twp.
- April 12, 7 p.m. - Shaler Area High School, 381 Wible Run Road, Shaler Twp.
Will you be appealing? Are you satisfied with your assessment? Tell us in the comments section below.