Vandergrift couple owe property taxes even after fire ravaged home
A former volunteer firefighter watched helplessly last year as his Vandergrift home and everything in it burned.
In the six months following the Nov. 7 blaze, Rich Hooks and his wife, Catherine, had to find and furnish a new home while tearing down and removing the one destroyed by an electrical fire.
They gave no thought to the Westmoreland County tax assessor, but they should have.
The Hooks are responsible for 2019 property taxes, which include a home that no longer exists.
“You don’t think about calling the tax collector. That’s the last thing on your mind,” Catherine Hooks said. “I didn’t know I was supposed to notify anybody.”
Rich Hooks, who had served with the Markle Volunteer Fire Department in Allegheny Township for 37 years, described the blaze as his worst nightmare.
Last tax year, the couple said they paid roughly $1,600 in county, municipal and school district taxes. When Kiski Area School District sent a bill for almost $840 in school taxes this year, the Hooks questioned why the taxes included their former home on La Belle Vue Road.
“The taxes should be lower because the house isn’t there,” Catherine Hooks said.
When a significant change occurs on a property, such as renovation or a fire that destroys the home, homeowners must report the change to the county assessor’s office by the end of the year or within six months, whichever is longer.
If the county is aware of the fire, an assessor will come out to reassess the property.
“It’s always the homeowners’ responsibility to notify us if something is removed from the property,” said Beth Stabile, Westmoreland County deputy chief assessor.
The county has since corrected the Hooks’ property assessment and will reissue them a lower bill for the school taxes.
“They’re good moving forward,” Stabile said.
But, having missed the six-month state deadline, the Hooks still will have to pay 2019 taxes on the home they had fully torn down in December.
“I just thought this was all over with,” Rich Hooks said.