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Bill would allow counties to make decision on reassessments

| Monday, April 9, 2012

A bill that has cleared the state House would let county officials throughout Pennsylvania choose whether they want to delay or complete court-ordered reassessments, marking a small success for those who oppose reassessments in Allegheny and Washington counties.

Gov. Tom Corbett vetoed a similar reassessment moratorium bill last year; he said it was unconstitutional because of amendments that limited its effect to Washington County.

"This bill would help Allegheny County and, yes, I would use it to stop the reassessment process," said Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, who has fought the reassessment since he took office in January.

As of Friday, property owners in Allegheny County filed 69,684 formal appeals contesting the results of an $11 million reassessment. Washington County officials have appealed to the state Supreme Court to prevent a court-ordered reassessment there that could cost $8 million.

Fitzgerald plans to visit Harrisburg in May to lobby for the bill's passage in the Senate after the Legislature reconvenes April 30.

Sen. John Pippy, R-Moon, supports the bill's concept as long as it gives county officials a choice and doesn't automatically impose a moratorium statewide. Pippy said some state legislators from Eastern Pennsylvania told him they want periodic reassessments to continue in counties they represent.

"They haven't been willing to give us a fix for something they see as being our problem," Pippy said. "I'm supportive of it, and hopefully we can get it through the Senate quickly."

Adams County used its first reassessment in 20 years to calculate tax bills in 2011, the result of a court order. Philadelphia is conducting a reassessment that officials hope to complete later this year.

State Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil, one of the House bill's primary sponsors, said it has a better chance of becoming law for two reasons: because it expires at the end of 2013 if the General Assembly doesn't create a uniform way for counties to update assessment values, and, assuming it isn't amended, it doesn't single out a particular county.

White said a House task force that has been studying reassessment practices is scheduled to release a report on its findings and recommendations Tuesday. He said the report stresses a need for uniformity among the state's 67 counties, but there remains disagreement over how often each county should conduct a reassessment, a key challenge.

Washington County hasn't had a reassessment since 1981. Allegheny County's last reassessment was in 2002. Butler County relies on a base-year reassessment system from 1969.

White acknowledged that if the bill becomes law, the time and effort that property owners in Allegheny County have put into appealing their values would be wasted. The reassessment is scheduled to be used to calculate tax bills in 2013.

"I think most people would rather go through the appeal and never see it become real," White said.

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