Property Assessment Not Judges' Job, Thornburgh Says

By Wereschagin, Mike | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, September 13, 2008 | Go to article overview
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Property Assessment Not Judges' Job, Thornburgh Says


Wereschagin, Mike, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Former Gov. Richard Thornburgh defended the base-year property assessment system Friday, siding with Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato in saying county leaders should decide when to conduct reassessments.

"I signed it into law, so obviously I felt it was constitutional," Thornburgh said after a speech at Republican state Rep. Mike Turzai's annual fundraising breakfast.

County Solicitor Mike Wojcik argued before the state Supreme Court on Wednesday that reassessments are a matter best overseen by municipal executives and state legislators, rather than courts.

The base-year system, which Thornburgh approved in 1982, allows counties to tax properties based on what they were worth in a previous year. It frees them from having to conduct often- contentious reassessments. Allegheny County's last two reassessments cost $30 million, prompted 180,000 appeals and helped Onorato beat his predecessor, Jim Roddey, in the 2003 election.

Onorato set 2002 as the county's base year two years ago.

Real estate markets change, however, and the longer a county waits before reassessing, the less accurate its values are. As a result, homeowners in thriving neighborhoods get a break as their property values rise, while those in declining neighborhoods are taxed on more than their homes are worth.

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