Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Crowd Turns out to Talk about Values

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Crowd Turns out to Talk about Values

Article excerpt

Allegheny County officials, including county Executive Rich Fitzgerald, got an earful recently from an auditorium full of angry residents during a recent town hall meeting in Bethel Park to discuss property reassessments.

"It's a mess!" shouted Bethel Park resident John Brickman. "This isn't my problem. It's your problem. You're the people who created the mess."

"This is not something we wanted to have," said Mr. Fitzgerald, a Democrat, to Mr. Brickman, and the audience of several hundred other people who turned out March 8 at the new Bethel Park High School. "We saw some of the problems that occurred in Allegheny County when the counties around us didn't have to do it."

Most of the residents who spoke said they were from Bethel Park, Upper St. Clair and Mt. Lebanon, and the majority said they believed their properties had been overassessed.

An informal review of recent home sales by the Pittsburgh Post- Gazette in those locations, however, shows that most properties seem to have been undervalued.

According to a comparison of 2013 property reassessments with sales of single-family homes in the past six months, real estate in Mt. Lebanon was undervalued by $1.37 million and in Upper St. Clair by $703,000.

Appraisers were closer to the mark in Bethel Park, which was overvalued by $53,000, according to real estate sale records provided by the county.

In Mt. Lebanon, the 2013 court-ordered reassessment raised total assessed values by 29.7 percent over current values, while properties Upper St. Clair rose by 21.8 percent during the same time period.

Although those percentages represent a significant uptick in value -- totaling $645 million in Mt. Lebanon and $368 million in Upper St. Clair -- the percentage increases pale in comparison with less-affluent areas of the South Hills, such as West Elizabeth, which saw an increase of 66.8 percent, and Green Tree, where the value of property rose by 52.6 percent.

One of the stated goals of the reassessment was to redistribute the property tax burden more equitably among richer and poorer communities and to create a more level playing field in areas that had been traditionally underassessed, compared to those that were assessed at higher levels, said county Councilman Vince Gastgeb, R- Bethel Park.

"I was never comfortable that the numbers would be good or right, based on previous reassessments," Mr. Gastgeb said.

He may have a point.

In Mt. Lebanon and Upper St. Clair, where home sales have been brisk compared with other municipalities, a trend to undervalue higher-priced property -- based on sale prices -- emerged, with 83 of the 142 homes sold in Mt. Lebanon during the past six months undervalued. Another 45 of the 75 homes sold in Upper St. Clair during the same time period were undervalued.

Those properties include a home on Osage Road in Mt. …

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