Assessment appeals have recent Mt. Lebanon home buyers up in arms
More than 100 homeowners in Mt. Lebanon are fighting assessment appeals the municipality or school district filed against them soon after they bought homes, but experts say the “welcome, stranger” tactic is not new for local governments.
Janet Burkardt, a partner with the Downtown firm Weiss Burkardt Kramer, said most school districts and some municipalities watch home sales and appeal when the sales price exceeds the assessed value by a certain ratio, a practice courts have upheld.
When many homes sell for prices well above that ratio, it can signal that it's time to lobby for another reassessment, she said.
“It's not an uncommon tactic, and we try to tell that to our callers,” said Anthony Cameron, an attorney with Kisner Law Firm, Downtown, who often represents property owners in assessment appeals. “They feel they're being targeted.”
Diversified Municipal Services, which contracts with Mt. Lebanon and its school district, appealed 150 properties that sold in 2011 and 2012 and were assessed at 85 percent or less of their sale prices. Officials are appealing 300 properties purchased from 2006 to 2010, and in 2013, that were assessed at 80 percent or less of their sale prices.
Many of those homeowners complained to Mt. Lebanon commissioners that their neighbors with similar homes paid taxes on much lower assessments.
Scott Livingston, one of the newcomers, said the appeals place an unfair tax burden on recent home buyers.
“We all know Mt. Lebanon could not enact a tax that says, ‘Scott Livingston pays more than his neighbor,' but they're using the appeals process to accomplish the same thing,” Livingston said. “What's so upsetting is having your next-door neighbor paying literally half of what you are because Mt. Lebanon targeted you.”
Commissioners told Diversified to find a way to determine the most under-assessed properties that changed hands before 2006, because appreciation and inflation made their sale prices a less reliable indicator of their value — though Livingston noted some properties in Mt. Lebanon that sold before 2006 are assessed for less than their owners paid.
“The only way to attempt to get any correction on under-assessed properties is for the municipality to file an appeal,” said Diversified President Don Gambino, who managed the Allegheny County assessment office before starting his business. “The county has no intent to fulfill its responsibility of creating uniform and equitable assessments.”
County Executive Rich Fitzgerald opposes another reassessment if other counties aren't required to do so.
“The process is disruptive, cost taxpayers a lot of money, and was a poor expenditure of county dollars that could have been better used on our roads, infrastructure and other expenses,” Fitzgerald said in an emailed statement. “To make Allegheny County go through a process that makes us uncompetitive with other, surrounding counties is unfair and a statewide solution must be found to address that issue.”
Avonworth School District — covering Ben Avon, Ben Avon Heights, Emsworth, Kilbuck and Ohio Township — followed criteria similar to Mt. Lebanon's when deciding whether to appeal recently sold properties' assessments, said Brad Waters, the district's director of fiscal management. Last year, the district appealed 69 properties that sold for $15,000 more than their assessed values or 15 percent more.
Taxpayers have complained, Waters said: “The board's position on that is, that's the county's job to get an accurate assessment. If they didn't get a good read on a property's true value, that's not the school district's problem.”
Matthew Santoni is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5625 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Add Matthew Santoni to your Google+ circles.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Animal activists targeting Vick at Steelers preseason game
- Pope Francis calls for abortion mercy
- Killings of police officers leave departments on edge
- Food assistance rises in Western Pa. despite drop in jobless rate
- Judge allows conspiracy lawsuit against UPMC, Highmark to proceed
- Pittsburgh councilwoman introduces pair of bills to protect animals
- Woman commits suicide in North Braddock police holding cell
- Penn Hills fire displaces 10
- HOV lanes on Parkway North to be closed
- Mt. Lebanon commissioners to consider deer management plan on Sept. 8
- Advocates want websites accessible to those with impaired, no eyesight