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Indiana County property reassessment on track

| Thursday, May 1, 2014, 8:55 p.m.

Indiana County's massive property tax reassessment project is progressing on schedule, and field data collection from the county's roughly 46,000 taxable parcels should be completed by early next year, Gene Porterfield of Evaluator Services and Technology, Inc. told the Indiana County Commissioners during their meeting April 23.

“To date, our data collectors have visited 25,620 parcels,” Porterfield said. “We're currently finishing up Black Lick Township and Pine Township and we're going to be moving into Young Township next. The mailback cards that we leave with the property occupant, we've got a tremendous response on those. We've got 10,560 of those have been returned as of (April) 17.”

Porterfield said the company has 10 data collectors canvassing the county, along with three full-time and three part-time data entry personnel, two field managers, a project manager, project director and an office manager.

Data for a total of 15,013 parcels had been entered as of April 17, he said.

Porterfield commended the commissioners for their cooperation and interest in the reassessment project.

“You folks have been very involved in the program and I think that's important for the public to see you out front with the program, answering their questions and understanding their concerns,” Porterfield said. “I really appreciate the cooperation we've had to this point.”

Commissioners Chairman Rodney Ruddock inquired about the “Clean and Green” program, which allows woodland and agricultural property to be assessed based on its use rather than market valuation.

“The first thing we need is a soil analysis overlay through (Geographic Information System) and the assessment office of each parcel in the county. That is currently being worked on in the first stages to delineate each parcel into either woodland or open land,” Porterfield explained. “There will then be a soil overlay of the soil typing for each parcel accomplished over the period of the next six to eight months. Once that's in place, we can then use the state's rates, which we will be using for Clean and Green use valuation versus market valuation for part of the reassessment process.”

Tax projections for specific parcels qualifying for the “Clean and Green” program could be available in May or June of 2015 following the evaluation process, Porterfield said. Frank Sisko, the county's chief assessor, estimated between 3,000 and 4,000 parcels would be eligible for “Clean and Green” assessment.

Commissioners approved an agreement to purchase phone switching equipment to upgrade the county's 911 system. The equipment and installation will cost $216,302.62 under the agreement. Emergency Management Agency director Tom Stutzman said the county cooperated with Region 13 and Venango County on the purchase.

Stutzman told commissioners that police departments in the county were set to begin using the new public safety radio system at midnight on April 28, with training for Emergency Medical Services and fire departments to follow.

“We have all the county agencies already up and operating and police was the next item we needed to get on board,” Stutzman said. “We're going to be training for all of the EMS providers beginning (April 28), so they'll be the next domino that falls in this. While that's going on, we're going to be doing the installs for the fire service. Through the early part of summer, we'll get the fire service migrated over as well.”

Commissioners approved a five-year lease agreement between the EMA and Cherry Tree Borough for one mobile radio and two portable radios. Cherry Tree will pay about $1,757 per year for the radios, which will belong to the borough at the conclusion of the lease term.

Commissioner approved approximately $246,730 in liquid fuels disbursements to six municipalities, including $20,275.07 to Black Lick Township toward the Aultman Run Bridge replacement.

The commissioners voted to approve an agreement enlisting McCutcheon Enterprises of Apollo, to clean out sludge built up in the sewage system at the Indiana County Jail due to what Ruddock called “a flaw in the system.”

About two feet of sludge has accumulated in a holding tank, which has caused the system to back up and not drain properly, according to warden Sam Buzzinotti, who estimated the cost of the work at around $7,500.

Because of the urgency of the maintenance, Ruddock said the county will pay for the work and try to negotiate a reimbursement from the architect and contractor responsible for designing and installing the system.

Commissioners heard from Indiana University of Pennsylvania students Taylor Jones, Julia Blair and Kristy Bendis regarding the 20th Annual Community Nutrition Food Drive, which will be held 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 3 at supermarkets, McDonalds and Wal-Mart locations throughout the county.

Gary Ferrence presented the commissioners with a letter and bill for $20,143.91 for work he said was required to repair a pond on his property due to shoddy work by the contractors when the pond was built. It was built to replace wetlands destroyed by the Indiana County Jimmy Stewart Airport runway expansion project, but Ferrence said the pond was too deep and the sides were too steep.

“When you folks said you couldn't afford to do it because of the financial situation of the county last summer, Carol and I decided something had to be done,” Ferrence said. “I had seven contractors come out and evaluate the project. Every one of them agreed it was a terrible job of construction and gave me suggestions of what needed to be done.”

Ferrence said the original contractors left approximately 8,000 tons of soil excavated from the wetlands on the slope of the dike, leaving a near-vertical face in some areas, and the pond was leaking due to poor construction of the overflow drainage system.

“We will accept this notification of what you have done on your property. This does not obligate in any way the county to make any payment at this time,” Ruddock said. “We didn't authorize the work that was done, obviously, and we would want to pass this through the Airport Authority that had ownership and review of that particular project and also have it reviewed by our solicitor.”

In other business, the commissioners approved:

• Three agreements with Avanco International, Inc. for upgrades to Children and Youth Services' Child Accounting Profile System and consulting for the system if needed.

• Renewal of a private-provider agreement on behalf of CYS with Holy Family Institute of Pittsburgh, for non-placement services. Rates for the agreement remained the same.

• A memorandum of understanding which adds Fayette and Somerset counties to the Inter County Regional Radio System, bringing the number of counties collaborating on the trunked emergency management radio system to five.

• A total of 11 reappointments and nine new appointments to the Children's Advisory Commission.

• The Office of Planning and Development to increase the amount requested in its application to the state Department of Community and Economic Development for Accessible Housing Grant funds through the Keystone Communities Program. The previous application was approved for $250,000 in grant funds but will be replaced by an application requesting $300,000.

• Twenty-seven appointments to the Indiana County Watershed Planning Advisory Committee.

• A resolution certifying the local match of $62,000 for IndiGO.

• Phyllis Spicher, Darla Coble, Mary Haberl and Stacie Golinsky as members of the Republican return board and Kimberly Fatula, Margaret Karp, Margaret Preite and Michelle Forsha as Democratic return board members for the May 20 primary election.

Greg Reinbold is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2913 or

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