Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Allegheny County Möbius

It is interesting watching the reporting of it all.  If you want to skip the interpretation you can read the judge's order in its entirety.  It seems to me that the Judge is now in rare company as one of a very small number of people who has ever bothered to read Allegheny County's Home Rule charter. It is true that the original intent of the County Manager position, from even before the position was created, was that it would be more of the professional manager role that many local governments have.  Sort of a person that would keep that job through transitions even when parties change.  Has not worked out that way thus far and this episode is clearly going to be seminal in defining that persons actual role.  Not that one in 10 could name present or past county managers.

and I do note the ACE's response which is that no judge gets to run the county's assessment process when he is the elected official.  There is this little bit of history where Judge Nicholas Papadakos of the Court of Common Pleas in Allegheny County actually went much further than Judge Wettick has even hinted at and actually took over the county's property assessment system himself for several years in the 1980's.  The judge then ran the county department outright and you didn't get the county commissioners threatenting Seppuku.  In fact, I think they kind of liked it.

Why do we have a county manager in the first place.  I'll say it again.  The referendum that passed the home rule charter and created the position of Allegheny Chief Executive was passed in an election by the very slimmest of margins (hey who wrote that?). 50.3 to 49.7 from the news accounts.  That margin was only possible because of the anti-county government sentiment generated by how bad things ran after Larry Dunn came to power in 1995.  Remember he fired the property assessors,  cut taxes but didn't cut spending, thus the county ran out of money, county bond ratings fell, there were even headline stories about weeds overrunning the county parks because there was nobody to cut the grass.  He all but forced Judge Wettick into the course of rulings on property assessments that lead to this moment.  No Larry Dunn -> no Home Rule Charter > no new assessments and the last couple of years would have been a dream.  Strange comparing how Larry Dunn's political demise began by freezing property assessments leads directly to our current assessment miasma and the different results it is having on the public.  You think that 16 years might have given us an opportunity to do this better.

But there has been a flurry of orders from the court today.  There is an entirely separate order he seems to think is necessary to make sure people actually show up.  Is that normal?  What happens if the County Manager quits by Thursday?  Why do all these people need to be around if everything is going to be delayed a year?  Again, I personally expect them all to quit by then just to make this all the more fun.

Another filing today:  The judge's response to a motion requesting he consider reconsidering past reconsiderations on all of this. Denied, of course, but interesting Aramaic scribble there on the very top.


Anonymous BrianTH said...

As I recall, there is a statute to the effect that courts can only give prison for contempt in open court or for unpaid contempt fines, and otherwise can only punish contempt with fines.

So that could be one explanation for the court making it clear these officers need to be in court on Thursday (to make them subject to immediate imprisonment for contempt).

Tuesday, January 10, 2012 11:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great job! Confusing the pols with facts. They raised taxes now complaint about assessment hikes, which alone mean nothing. Oy!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012 11:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really do not understand why the assessments are provided without the corresponding millage rates. As you've indicated, all it does is add to the general confusion. If your taxes go down, why will you care that your assessment went up?

However, the other part that I don't understand is why for houses sold within the last 2 years is the assessment sometimes significantly lower than the selling price. Wouldn't a recent sale help define 'fair market value'?

Thursday, January 12, 2012 8:34:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Won't the newly set assessments have a greater impact on future numbers? If the assessment numbers stay high now even though millage rates are supposed to go down if that happens, then future millage rates & taxes will be applied to these higher assessment numbers? I don't think it matters much for the coming year.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012 1:17:00 PM  

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