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Allegheny County reassessments stand, judge decides

| Monday, Nov. 19, 2012, 3:42 p.m.

An Allegheny County judge denied a request to reduce reassessed values for about 300,000 properties in some low-income communities, a decision that could lead to more litigation.

The ruling on Monday by Senior Common Pleas Judge R. Stanton Wettick means the county's reassessment for 2013 will stand, though appeals could change some values.

Attorney Don Driscoll, who represents homeowners who sued to force the reassessment, asked Wettick months ago to adjust values in several communities where he thinks assessments remain too high.

Driscoll, a lawyer for the nonprofit Community Justice Project, claimed the court-ordered reassessment is unfair to property owners in communities such as Braddock, Rankin, Duquesne and Wilkinsburg. He said he is considering appealing Wettick's order to the state Supreme Court or filing another lawsuit.

“We filed to obtain fair, uniform assessed values,” Driscoll said. “The (reassessment) results did not achieve what the Supreme Court required, which was a constitutional, uniform reassessment.”

Driscoll's analysis said values in areas where low-end homes are prevalent increased at a greater rate than for high-end homes in at least 22 school districts.

Wettick said the county complied with all court orders and he has no authority to consider the fairness of the assessment, except through a constitutional challenge.

“This court has no inherent authority or authority provided by legislation to otherwise consider challenges to the fairness of a countywide reassessment,” Wettick wrote. “No provisions within the assessment legislation provide for court intervention upon a showing that computer-based adjustments will produce greater uniformity.”

County Solicitor Andrew Szefi, who opposed modifying the values, said Driscoll wanted to change assessment numbers to meet his agenda.

“We're pleased with the result, to the extent it prevents the plaintiffs from attempting to reverse-engineer a particular result,” Szefi said.

County Council is set to approve County Executive Rich Fitzgerald's 4.73 millage rate for 2013, which he says is a revenue-neutral reduction from 2012's 5.69 millage rate, to offset the county's rise in overall assessed value. Under state law, taxing bodies cannot reap more than 5 percent more as a result of reassessments and must adjust tax rates.

School districts and municipalities have not yet reduced millage rates.

Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or bkerlik@tribweb.com.

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