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Assessment appeals draw Mt. Lebanon residents' ire

| Monday, March 10, 2014, 11:09 p.m.

When Jason Margolis got a job in Pittsburgh three years ago, he and his family moved from Portland, Ore., to Mt. Lebanon.

Since then, property tax rates on new houses in the municipality have been rising, as has the ire of their owners. Real estate taxes on the $321,000, five-bedroom Margolis home increased from about $6,300 when he bought it to $7,200, then rose again to $9,500 because Mt. Lebanon officials appealed the assessment of some recently sold properties.

Now, Margolis and other residents who bought houses in 2011 and 2012 have banded together, and some will vent their concerns to Mt. Lebanon commissioners on Tuesday.

“If there is no movement and this injustice continues, some of those people may leave,” said Margolis, 44. “A few may foreclose because they can't afford the new tax burden on their monthly statement. And there will be acrimony — neighbor against neighbor.”

He is among 150 recent homebuyers who consider themselves unfairly targeted by what they call the “Mt. Lebanon Newcomer's Tax.” The municipality last year appealed the assessments of about 150 properties purchased between 2011 and 2012 in which the sale price was at least $48,000 more than the assessment.

Commissioner Dave Brumfield said the commissioners targeted new homeowners because a recent sales price is the best way to determine how much a house is actually worth.

“It doesn't help neighbors if one house is assessed at its fair market value and the house across the street is underassessed by hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Brumfield said. “The assessment process isn't ours to control. Our goal is to make it as fair as we can.”

Margolis said he knows of big discrepancies on his block. He said a similar house across the street is assessed at $80,000 less than his, and a similar house three doors down is $130,000 less.

After talking with some of the new homeowners, Brumfield said the commissioners are willing to consider whether to appeal the values of homes that could be under-assessed, as well.

Solicitor Phillip Weis said appealing the assessments of new residents' homes presents no legal concerns.

“I understand their point. They understand our point, which is we don't agree with them,” he said.

Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or bzlatos@tribweb.com.

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