Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Property Values Challenge Rejected Figures in County's Poorer Sections Stand, Wettick Rules

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Property Values Challenge Rejected Figures in County's Poorer Sections Stand, Wettick Rules

Article excerpt

The judge overseeing Allegheny County's contentious property reassessment project Monday turned down a request to reduce the new real estate values in poorer communities.

New assessed values are scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1 for calculating property taxes. The order from Common Pleas Senior Judge R. Stanton Wettick Jr. appears to remove the final legal challenge to their use.

Lawyer Don Driscoll argued that an independent expert's study of the county's reassessment effort showed that bias remained against lower-valued properties following the $15 million revaluation. That review by Robert C. Denne concluded that people in poorer communities would continue to pay a disproportionate share of property taxes, he said.

In an Oct. 31 letter to Judge Wettick, Mr. Driscoll estimated that if proper adjustments were made, 75 percent of residential property owners in poorer communities such as Braddock and Rankin would see their new assessments reduced. In an oral presentation to Judge Wettick last month, he estimated that the value of about 300,000 parcels should be adjusted downward.

Judge Wettick wrote that the Supreme Court and state law had limited his authority to making sure that the county carried out the order to revalue properties. "It does not provide for judicial oversight with respect to issues regarding the fairness of a reassessment," he wrote.

"[The] only issue before this court is whether Allegheny County is completing a reassessment in accordance with the timetables set by this court," Judge Wettick wrote. "As of this date, it appears that Allegheny County is in full compliance with outstanding court orders."

Mr. Driscoll said he was reviewing the judge's decision.

"It is our opinion that the judge does have the authority and duty to ensure that the [state] constitution is complied with," he said. "The thrust of our case is to achieve uniform assessments. …

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