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Allegheny County homeowners take 'why bother?' stance on appeal period

| Monday, March 11, 2013, 12:12 a.m.

Allegheny County home-owners are not nearly as litigious as in 2012, when they filed more than 100,000 appeals of real estate assessments.

Through last week, the county Board of Property Assessment and Review logged 467 appeals. Homeowners can appeal 2013 values until April 1.

County officials expect the real estate tax to generate $331.7 million this year.

“I figured, why bother? You pay for an attorney, and then the chances of them denying it again are high,” said Patricia Colello, 72, of White Oak, who appealed her assessment on a vacant lot near her home last year. Its value rose from $12,000 to $26,000, and her appeal changed nothing.

County Council in February approved a plan from Executive Rich Fitzgerald to allow homeowners to appeal this year, even if a property owner lost at the county's Board of Property Assessment and Review once. Typically, property owners cannot appeal during the year that an assessment takes effect.

This year, anyone is eligible to appeal again unless the Board of Viewers, an arm of Common Pleas Court, issued a final decision.

“The county executive and County Council recognized that having property owners go through the court-ordered reassessment process has been extremely difficult for everyone. There are property owners who may not have had an opportunity to appeal, didn't get the results they had hoped for or didn't understand what their assessment meant to their taxes,” said Fitzgerald's spokeswoman Amie Downs.

“This appeal period essentially gives those owners another chance to have their correct value put on their property.”

The county reassessed roughly 600,000 residential and commercial properties in 2012 for 2013 taxing purposes under a state Supreme Court order. Fitzgerald opposed the reassessment.

People who did not appeal last year would have had to wait until 2014 if Fitzgerald had not amended the rules.

“Well, the low number is because the only people filing are the people that never did. I think it's the people who didn't appeal before,” said attorney Robert Peirce, who handles real estate appeals. “I think the people that lost to the (Board of Property Assessment and Review) already took an appeal to Common Pleas Court.”

Downs said that even if a property owner appealed to the Board of Viewers, he or she can take a second crack at getting a value reduced through the Board of Property Assessment.

If the owner gets a favorable ruling from the county before the Board of Viewers rules, the homeowner can keep that number by withdrawing their court appeal.

The county will refund the difference if an owner wins a lower assessment, Downs said.

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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