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Reassessments confuse, anger Pittsburgh and Mt. Oliver residents

| Thursday, Dec. 29, 2011
Jill Harris of Duquesne Heights expresses her disapproval of the countywide reassessment of properties in the city during an outreach meeting on Wednesday in the Mt. Washington Senior Center.

Let the appeals begin.

Homeowners in Pittsburgh and Mt. Oliver received the first wave of residential property reassessment notices in their mailboxes on Wednesday, and some said they are preparing to appeal the estimates in hopes of blunting an increase in their tax bills next year.

"It's just a shock. I can't understand it," said David Kegarise, 66, of Squirrel Hill. "I figured the value of your house should go down because of the real estate market and the economy, but the market value of my land went up 265 percent."

Kegarise, a retired electrical engineer, has lived in a home on a roughly 5,000-square-foot corner lot since 1994. He thinks his tax bill will go up 50 percent. He plans to appeal.

"It's not like I'm in some gated, nice expensive community," he said. "I don't get the logic here."

The notices, which an Allegheny County judge ordered sent out as part of the court-ordered reassessment, provide updated home values but not tax bills.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said the city intends to lower its millage rate to compensate for higher property values.

"We do not intend to make a dime off of this process," Ravenstahl said. "There's an anti-windfall provision that will not allow the city of Pittsburgh to essentially make any money off of this reassessment process."

Joanna Doven, Ravenstahl's spokeswoman, said the administration has not determined what the tax adjustment will be. State law restricts municipalities to a 5 percent increase in property tax revenues during a reassessment year.

Rich Fitzgerald, who will take office on Tuesday as county executive, told the nearly 250 property owners who attended a pair of question-and-answer sessions in Mt. Washington yesterday afternoon and evening that he would attempt to block the process.

During his campaign, Fitzgerald said he would go to jail on a contempt of court charge to stop notices from being mailed, but lately he has spoken of filing a court appeal. The state Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected an appeal from Dan Onorato, the outgoing county executive.

"This is a bad process, this is a chaotic process, this is going to lead to a tax increase," Fitzgerald said. "Last time we went through this 10 years ago, 82 percent of the people saw their taxes go up."

Fitzgerald estimated the average assessment increase citywide would be 50 percent.

It's too soon to say if his estimate is high or low, said Daniel Murrer, vice president of RealSTATs, a South Side-based real estate information firm.

"It's going to depend on the neighborhood," Murrer said. "What's happening is, on the South Side people are going to get slammed. It's just outrageous. But sadly, prices have doubled in 10 years, and assessments are based on prices."

Murrer's firm on Saturday released an analysis of property sales from 2001 to 2011 that found the current median sale price of $60,000 would jump to a fair market value of $151,000. After adjusting city, county and school taxes to avoid a windfall, taxes on a home of that value would increase $1,183.

Gloria Ostermeyer said she and her husband, Bob, are perplexed by the steep increase in the assessed value of their modest home along Bertha Street in Mt. Washington.

"It's an old frame house built in 1888 with no access to the backyard and no garage," she said. "But somehow the value supposedly went up by over 30 percent, from about $50,000 to $80,000. I just don't get it. We are definitely going to file an appeal."

Donna Query said she, too, will appeal the new assessment, which increased the value of her home along Chess Street in Mt. Washington by nearly 30 percent, from about $37,000 to $48,000.

"I don't know how they come up with these numbers," she said. "And I guess they didn't really come out and look at the properties on our street, because if they did, they would have seen that there are whole rows of Section 8 housing along the street and lots of houses that are just falling apart."

Property owners may request an informal review by phone at 412-350-4600 or through the county's website. They must do so by Jan. 13.

David Montgomery, solicitor for the Property Assessment Appeal and Review Board, said a colleague was able to schedule an informal review yesterday after a 10-minute wait. He expects the volume to be heavier today once property owners have had time to digest their reassessment notices.

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