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Roddey, council remain at odds on reassessment

| Wednesday, March 6, 2002

PITTSBURGH: Allegheny County Council and Executive Jim Roddey clashed on county reassessments Tuesday, each laying plans to fix inaccuracies and improve the system.

Roddey told council he wanted it to reduce the county's 4.72-mill property tax rate and wants the state to reform the way local governments are funded so property taxes do not generate the bulk of revenue.

Roddey said, "4.72 mills is too high, and it is overtaxing the citizens of the county."

Roddey also called on school districts, which receive the bulk of local property taxes, to rein in spending. And he called for a change in the way school boards raise taxes.

Roddey said he would like voters to approve by referendum any increase in school tax rates.

Democratic Council members maintained that the way to fix the much-criticized assessment system was to decertify the 2002 values, and revert to 2001 values until an anticipated 100,000-plus appeals correct inaccuracies.

When council voted last month to decertify the 2002 values, Roddey took the matter to court and won. The judge overseeing the court-mandated reassessment agreed with Roddey, saying 2002 values must be used to calculate this year's tax bills.

Roddey said Tuesday he would not back down, regardless of how unpopular his position becomes.

"I was elected to fix the problems of Allegheny County, and that is what I intend to do regardless of the political consequences," he said.

Although the six Republican council members have said council must give up its quest to decertify the numbers and find a new way to solve assessment troubles, Democrats were undeterred.

"I think this council spoke loudly and clearly a few weeks ago when we voted 15-0 to do this," Councilman Rich Fitzgerald, D-Squirrel Hill, said. "I don't think we should back up one bit. I think we should continue to hold off on these numbers for one year."

Council's latest strategy to decertify the 2002 values is to dissolve the Property Assessment Oversight Board that certified them in January.

Rick Schwartz, D-Plum, is the only councilman on the three-member oversight board. He was the lone vote against certification in January and said Tuesday he would be happy to dissolve the group.

"We were handed a letter and a stack of papers and told to vote," Schwartz said. "I do believe I was the only one honest enough to say, 'I don't understand these numbers and I would like to find out about them.' "

Schwartz said he's happy with the plan that would dissolve the group and give the job to the Property Assessment and Appeals Board.

However, the appeals board has said it doesn't want the oversight board's responsibilities and is not likely to consider decertification.

Republican council members objected to the plan, saying it is not reasonable to disband a board just because council disagrees with its actions.

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