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Hempfield to 'vigorously' fight 3 tax assessment appeals

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By Richard Gazarik
Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
 

The attorney for Hempfield Area said the school district will “vigorously” defend itself in tax assessment appeals filed by three companies who want to pay less to Westmoreland County, the township and the school district.

Solicitor Dennis Slyman said Westinghouse Airbrake Technologies Corp., Home Depot and Penallen Corp. in New Stanton, a subsidiary of UPS, filed appeals late last year because the county Tax Assessment Appeals Board refused to reduce the assessments on their properties.

“It's rather large requests,” Slyman said.

At stake for the school district is nearly $342,000 in taxes paid by the three companies, according to tax records.

Westinghouse's 19.1-acre site on Donohoe Road is assessed at nearly $557,000, according to its appeal. Home Depot's property is assessed at $1.2 million and Penallen at $2.8 million, according to tax records. Penallen occupies 32.5 acres on UPS Drive in New Stanton.

In their appeals, the companies cited similar arguments that the assessments lack uniformity and were “unreasonable and discriminating.”

The school district has intervened in a fourth case filed in 2012 by Parkway Provisions Co., which is seeking a reduction in its 2013 assessment of $1.4 million, court records show. The school district stands to lose more than $106,000.

Westmoreland County has not undergone a county-wide property reassessment since 1972. A reassessment would update property values to reflect current fair market values rather than basing assessments on land values that are more than 40 years old.

The appeals were filed as the school district prepares its 2014-15 budget, and school officials said an adverse decision could reduce the amount of tax revenue the district has to work with.

Business manager Jude Abraham uses property taxes to determine how much the district can spend in the ensuing school year. Tax revenue and state education subsidies comprise most of the budget and determine whether a tax increase is needed to offset a deficit. In the current $91 million spending plan, real estate taxes account for $42 million — 46 percent — of the budget.

Abraham said the district is allowed under state law to raise taxes as much as 1.9 mills next school year. If the district decides to raise taxes, the increase would generate between $1.1 million and $1.3 million in additional revenue, he said.

“I think this is going to be a very good budget season for Hempfield,” Abraham said.

Hempfield is in a better financial position than most Westmoreland school districts, because the district's assessed valuation continues to rise, mainly because of the boom in housing construction.

The district's assessed value is $626.5 million, an increase of $2.5 million over last year. The assessed value of Norwin School District is $389 million, budget records show, and its $347.3 million in the Franklin Regional School District.

“Every year it's going up,” Abraham said.

Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or at rgazarik@tribweb.com.

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