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Tax plan rouses recent homebuyers

Brian C. Rittmeyer
| Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Passing a budget that doesn't raise property taxes didn't spare the North Hills School Board on Monday from the wrath of taxpayers angered by the district seeking to raise property assessments.

Several residents out of an audience numbering nearly 100 took the board to task for filing more than 1,300 property assessment appeals. They said the district is unfairly targeting those who bought their homes recently and violating a judge's order supporting the county's use of 2002 property values for assessments.

"I thought 'Why me?' I'm just an average person trying to make it in the world," said Paula Moore, of Ross, who got a letter from the district saying the value of her home is being challenged. "I don't think people who bought their home over the last several years should be singled out. I don't think it's fair. It's unfair for us to be penalized."

Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato recently called North Hills the worst offender among school districts he said are seeking to raise property assessments based on recent sales despite the county moving to using 2002 as a base year for assessments. Allegheny County Judge R. Stanton Wettick upheld the method in March.

"It's the law. You can't circumvent the law," said James Penton, of Ross. "What you're doing is illegal."

Board President Arlene Bender said the district is not breaking any laws, and several board members criticized Onorato for wanting to use assessments now that as a candidate for office he called flawed.

Solicitor Mike Witherel said the district filed the appeals before the base-year method was adopted and because of that has withdrawn about 25 percent of the 120 appeals that have been heard.

Witherel said the question now is whether assessments should be based on 2002 assessed values or 2002 market values.

"We're trying to work within the system," he said.

His assurances did little to satisfy residents such as Darci Faiello, of Ross, who said she found an example on the county's real estate Web site of a board member whose home is not being appealed, although a neighbor with a similar home already assessed for more is being challenged.

Board member Mark Kasperowicz bought his townhouse in 2004 for $1, it now is assessed at $79,300, and its value is not being challenged. The district is challenging the assessment of a neighboring townhouse that was bought in 2003 for $103,500 and now is assessed at $86,800, according to the site.

Kasperowicz did not respond to Faiello's comments.

The school board unanimously adopted a $61.7 million 2006-07 budget that leaves the district's tax rate at 18.5 mills. The owner of a home assessed at $100,000 pays $1,850 in property taxes to the district.

Instead of rasing taxes, the board balanced the budget by using about $1.3 million from the district's fund balance, expected to total $4.7 million at the end of June. The district budgeted to use $1.1 million from this fund in 2005-06 but was able to replace $600,000 with surplus revenue and curtailed spending, board member Ed Wielgus said.

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