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Rule on Allegheny County assessment appeal representation criticized

Saturday, March 30, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

A proposal to change the way property owners may be represented during assessment appeals is drawing criticism from several Allegheny County Council members.

The county's Board of Property Assessment and Review approved a rule this month that requires property owners who pay for representation to appeal their assessments to hire an attorney or a certified property manager. Family, friends and others who represent people for free do not have to be attorneys or certified property managers.

The point of the change, according to board solicitor David Montgomery, is “to protect the public” and bring Allegheny County's standards in line with many others in the state.

“It prevents non-attorneys from representing people for compensation. We've seen a lot of problems with non-attorneys in terms of the quality and consistency — from being prepared to the quality of their evidence,” Montgomery said. “Our conclusion is that the public is better served to have attorneys and property managers.”

County council can scrap all rule changes the board proposes. Ten members signed onto a motion to stop the rule change from taking effect. A vote could come at council's meeting on Tuesday.

“For them to decide who a taxpayer needs to bring in front of them is not right. So (the board) is deciding who makes money?” said Jim Ellenbogen, D-Banksville. “Suppose your grandmother can't afford an attorney, but she knows a real estate professional who will do it for a couple bucks. It's her right to decide who can represent her.”

The proposed rule change would permit employees of organizations that own property, such as a school district business manager, to appear before the board.

Montgomery said council will have the final say and noted that the public has a recourse if an attorney does a poor job, such as reporting someone to the state's Disciplinary Board.

Amie Downs, spokeswoman for County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, said the administration supports council members who oppose the rule change.

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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