Allegheny’s Never Ending Assessment Fiasco

After years of delaying tactics and losing in court cases, in the spring of 2009 Allegheny County was told by the PA Supreme Court it must do a countywide property reassessment. After months of dawdling in reaching an agreement with Judge Wettick, to whom the Supreme Court had given the responsibility of overseeing the reassessment, the County finally agreed to a plan in December of 2009 that would get the new assessments done and in place by January 2012. As late as February of 2011 County officials were assuring the Judge they were on track to meet the January 2012 deadline. But in the spring they began singing a different tune-the assessments would not be ready until April 2012 or maybe even later.

Municipalities and school districts in Allegheny County now find themselves in an awkward situation because of the need to send out tax bills for 2012 not knowing what the true tax liabilities are for property owners because assessments are very likely to change-in some cases dramatically.

Pittsburgh schools say it could cost them a $1.5 million because they will need to borrow $60 million to meet expenses because of the delay in getting out tax bills. Other districts could face nightmarish scenarios of having to figure out additional charges or refunds for folks whose assessments move significantly up or down relative to the average change in the district.

This clearly did not have to happen. The Judge should not have allowed six months to be used up in 2009 waiting on the County to come up with a plan to start reassessing. This is not rocket science. Those months were lost because the County dragged its feet, used dilatory tactics and the Judge failed to drop the hammer on the County sooner and get the process underway within a couple of months of the Supreme Court ruling. After years of denying equity to County taxpayers, there was every justification for refusing to accept any further foot dragging. Those lost months would have been enough to ensure the job was finished by January 2012. And if not finished on time, contempt of court citations and steep fines should be handed out to county officials. That threat has not been used and now we see the impending fiasco for 2012.

What a way for the new County Executive to take office. Rest assured, the final chapters of this deplorable and unnecessary saga have not been written. Both candidates for the job have indicated they will fight the reassessment despite the Supreme Court’s order. Does anyone have a problem with an official taking an oath to obey the laws of the state when that official has pledged to ignore a Supreme Court decision?