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In-person tax appeals may change in Allegheny County

Aaron Aupperlee
| Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, 12:16 a.m.

Allegheny County taxpayers could appeal their property assessments online or through the mail and avoid making a trip Downtown, under legislation a county councilman plans to introduce on Tuesday.

Councilman Ed Kress, R-Shaler, said the proposal would require a state-certified appraiser to review independent appraisals submitted as evidence.

“The idea is to make the system fairer and more accurate for the homeowners,” Kress said.

Kress, an attorney who has represented property owners in appeal cases, suspects some homeowners don't appeal because going Downtown can be inconvenient.

The controversial reassessment generated 132,728 appeals in 2012 and 2013, according to county records. The deadline to appeal 2014 property assessments is March 31.

County Manager William McKain and Jerry Tyskiewicz, the director of the Department of Administrative Services, declined to comment until the matter has gone before county council, said Amie Downs, the county's spokeswoman.

Amy Schrempf, chair of the county's assessment review board, and the board's solicitor, David Montgomery, did not return calls for comment.

Under the current system, taxpayers wishing to appeal the assessed value of their properties must submit all forms and evidence to the county's Board of Property Assessment Appeals and Review inside the County Office Building on Forbes Avenue. Property owners can appeal the value of their properties assigned by the county if they think they are too high.

Property owners can submit appeals to the Board of Viewers, the next step in the assessment appeal process, online or through the mail.

Attorney Noah Fardo, whose Shadyside firm handled more than 1,100 assessment appeals, said county reviewers often rely primarily on the evidence submitted to make a ruling, making a face-to-face meeting unnecessary. He supports requiring an appraiser to review evidence from property owners.

“Sometimes the hearing officer is an appraiser but not always,” Fardo said.

County law does not require hearing officers or members of the assessment appeals board to be state-certified appraisers.

Homeowners use appraisals as their primary evidence in appeals, said Dennis Censtra, president of the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Chapter of the Appraisal Institute. For mortgages and loans in the private sector, appraisers reviewing the work of other appraisers is common.

“I think that this would just give people confidence,” said Michael Suley, who pushed for appraiser reviews when he was the manager of the Allegheny County Office of Property Assessment. Suley was fired in 2012.

Aaron Aupperlee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7986 or aaupperlee@tribweb.com.

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