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Highlands might drop all assessment appeals

| Tuesday, June 5, 2001

www.valleynewsdispatch.com includes a link to the Allegheny County tax-assessment office Web site, which contains certified Property values for 2001. Look up your assessment or compare it with your neighbors'.

President Bob Lascek and board member Tim McCue disagreed about whether to pursue appeals on 400 possibly underassessed properties in the district.

McCue wanted to go after the properties and the potential additional tax money they could bring the district, while Lascek didn't.

The board, at the urging of Highlands' business manager, last week told owners of those 400 properties to ignore appeal letters mailed out at a cost of about $1,600 to the district.

But Lascek and McCue agreed on another point: To be fair the board also should drop appeals on the initial 248 properties the district identified as underassessed.

'We either do them all, or we don't do any of them,' McCue said.

Lascek agreed: 'I think we risk compromising our credibility.'

He said the board either can wait until the June school board meeting to make a decision on the initial appeals or call an earlier special meeting to decide.

District Superintendent Randall Kahler didn't return a phone call for comment.

The controversy and confusion with the underassessed properties began with the 2000 Allegheny County property reassessment.

While individuals usually appeal overassessed properties, the county made municipalities and school districts responsible for appealing underassessed properties.

Rae Ann of Century 21 Rae Ann Realty identified 248 potentially underassessed properties in the district while working for the county as an assessment appeals officer.

Highlands Business Manager Jon Rupert estimated the properties would bring in about $70,000 in additional tax revenue if their assessments were appealed by the district.

Ann also was hired by the district to help it fill out forms and represent it at assessment hearings.

After the district sent notices to owners of the original 248 properties telling them the district was appealing the assessments, Ann then identified an additional 400 properties, a move that created some controversy.

After getting a consensus of the board, the district sent out letters to the 400 property owners telling them to ignore the appeal notices.

At the May meeting when the board voted to hire Ann, Lascek said he was under the impression the district only would target the initial 248 properties.

The official motion said the board would appeal underassessed residential and commercial properties. It did not mention a specific number.

There are more than 10,000 properties in the district.

McCue said when Ann asked him what he thought of going after more underassessed properties, he told her he didn't care. McCue said he didn't think Ann needed a go-ahead from the board to pursue the appeals. 'If the properties are underassessed, they're underassessed,' he said.

Ann said Friday that McCue gave her the go-ahead to pursue additional appeals of underassessed properties.

On Friday, Ann said she was going to resign from her job with the school district, but Rupert said Monday he hadn't received a letter of resignation from her.

Ann refused to comment Monday.

Neither assessment board solicitor Isobel Storch nor county solicitor Terry McVerry said they saw any conflict of interest between Ann's job as an appeals hearing officer and her job with the district as long as she didn't hear any appeals from the district.

Jason Walker can be reached at jawalker@tribweb.com

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