Saturday, May 02, 2009

Assessment unnews

Because the issue has been so quiescent over the last couple of years there are many who don't realize how toxic the whole property assessment debate has been in town. It's been a rosetta stone of local politics and a whole lot more. If you had to pick just one topic, it's possible that property reassessment was the biggest story in the county for more than a decade. Think billboards times 10. No, make that 20. From the time Larry Dunn fired all of the county's professional property assessors and attempted to freeze all reassessments (thus prompting the litigation that would seem unending) until last week few issues ranked higher on a scale of political kryptonite. Political careers have been made and ended, protests held and millions of dollars spent on the how's and why's of property assessment.

Yet... now with what may be the single biggest event in Allegheny County's multi-decade reassessment imbroglio, you sense a great sense of...... nothing? It's like the tree that falls in the woods. Was there even a thud? Are people burnt out from other economic news? Fearful of swine flu making property assessment irrelevant? Obsessed with Penguin fever for the moment? I really don't know.

Maybe everyone just does not know what happens next? Dan O. started out all but saying that he was going to defy the ruling. He seems to have realized his rhetoric was a bit over the top and has backed off quite a bit. No line in the sand being drawn. No doubt Allegheny County will be reassessing all properties soon. We can debate a bit whether it is for the 2010 calendar year or not, but progress will be made. Judge Wettick has spent more than a decade issuing ruling after ruling all telling the county it must implement a modern assessment system. Those orders have been thwarted by not one, not two, I really am not sure what the full count of politicians and bureaucrats, along the way. One thing is clear from the ruling issued by the state supreme court, the case is now back squarely in Judge Wettick's, now virtually unappealable, domain.

Maybe next week I'll address the question of who the winners and who the losers are in the reassessment that will come in due course. The short answer is that it's awfully complicated. Most everything I have heard from everyone guessing at an answer is at best incorrect. Each homeowner's future tax bill will depend not only on how her or his own property has appreciated (or depreciated in some cases), but will also depend on how all of their neighbors' values have changed as well. Even if we could deconstruct the county's (unused) reassessment data from 2005, that is still 4 years ago. Lots has gone on in both local and national real estate markets over that time.

Some news from beyond on the assessment decision:

From the Philadelphia Inquirer: County must reassess.

Legal Intelligencer: Allegheny Reassessments Invalid, Supreme Court Holds

Pocono Record: Pennsylvania Supreme Court puts Monroe County property valuations in question

Cumberland Sentinal: County officials study court decision on reassessment


Blogger EdHeath said...

So perhaps the actual tax revenues are not all that relevant, what with the anti windfall laws and the old adage that "you can't get blood from a stone". There are a fair number of stones around here.

But I think what people have failed to internalize, for whatever reason, is that the County will spend a lot of money to reassess, and no matter how it is done, some fraction of people will scream that it is unfair (I know, well duh). Since the County is not supposed to make money on this, it’s not like people’s taxes are going to go up by all that much (or if they do, and the people are rich, they will sue; and for poor neighborhoods, the whole stone thing). But the reassessment process itself will, as you say, become a mess again.

Let’s enjoy the end of the respite, while Wettick decides how best to make us suffer.

Saturday, May 02, 2009 8:18:00 AM  
Blogger Infinonymous said...

I believe Judge Wettick has signaled his position by (1) issuing his original order, (2) directing the county to prepare for affirmance by maintaining current assessment information, an admonition I believe the county has ignored and (3) promptly scheduling a status conference in the wake of the Supreme Court's ruling.

I also believe Dan Onorato may have signaled his intentions.

That status conference should be fun, unless your name is Mike Wojcik.

Saturday, May 02, 2009 12:26:00 PM  
Anonymous MH said...

Maybe people running the marathon tomorrow will leave their wallets in their street clothes while they run.

Saturday, May 02, 2009 4:35:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

No joke..... when you consider Judge Wettick's reasonable timetable per his ruling in this case was a reassessment for FY 2008. Even given the appeals, his un-stayed order is still extant for a reassessment in FY2009. Think he is going to start by asking the county why they didn't bother complying with that?

By all accounts the judge is personally and professionally an extremely reasonable man. But you have to wonder what he is going to say or do if the county once again tries to get out of an actual reassessment. He seems pretty far past a breaking point when you consider he has long since felt the need to play lawyer in this case.. he honestly probably knows more about property assessment than anybody in the state at this point.

If the county tries to delay and I were the judge... I would start out by ordering county to begin by at least implementing the 2005 reassessment numbers that were basically ignored despite the county's own expert testifying under oath that they were pretty good. No reason that could not be done immediately and be a much more recent set of numbers than what is being used now. That would certainly shake things up. Would also give the county a lot of incentive to get going pretty fast given how angry people got at those numbers.

Saturday, May 02, 2009 9:31:00 PM  
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Tuesday, August 18, 2009 3:14:00 AM  

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