Wild Things’ owner appeals taxes

Team claims assessed value for North Franklin Twp. ballpark is ‘excessive’

October 26, 2012

The owner of the struggling Washington Wild Things Frontier League baseball team has filed a lawsuit in Washington County Court appealing the refusal of the county’s tax assessment appeals board to lower the real estate taxes the business must pay on its ballpark in North Franklin Township.The appeal follows the June 29 ruling by the tax assessment board to keep the property value for Consol Energy Park set at $2.7 million, which would require WashCo Ballpark Management of Pittsburgh to pay $97,817 in property taxes a year, county records show.The ballpark, whose majority owner is Stuart A. Williams, claims in the lawsuit that the assessed value of the property at 1 Washington Federal Way is “excessive, improper, unjust and contrary to law,” the record indicates.Williams’ investment group purchased the ballpark last year from a nonprofit organization that built it in 2002, a move that put the property on the tax rolls for the first time.In the lawsuit filed by Pittsburgh attorney Jarrod J. Duffy, the organization claims the assessed value of the property of $684,518 lacks uniformity, and is discriminatory, unconstitutional, based on improper methods and set using math errors, the record shows. Duffy could not be reached Friday.The lawsuit isn’t the only battle the team is waging over taxes.Williams also opposes a decision last week by North Franklin Township supervisors to assess a 5 percent amusement tax on tickets sold for games and events at the ballpark, a fee that doesn’t apply to other entertainment-themed businesses in the area.“It does not make sense to target one business in the community,” Williams said last week. “That does not seem to be business welcoming.”Williams said he was offended that supervisors remarked at their Oct. 17 meeting that the ballpark hadn’t paid the township the expected $38,000 payment in lieu of property taxes under a prior agreement.Williams said he had met earlier this year with North Franklin’s solicitor, Dennis Makel, and board Chairman James Huff and they all agreed to let the $38,000 payment stand and shelve an amusement tax.Williams said he would have made the payment had North Franklin signed the agreement following the meeting.Makel and Huff did not return calls seeking comment. Supervisor Dennis Dydiw abstained from voting.The other supervisor, Silvio Passalacqua, said he was not aware of the meeting with Williams, and that he wanted to make an effort to erase the amusement tax after scheduling another meeting with Williams.“The Wild Things are having a little bit of a struggle,” Passalacqua said Thursday, pointing to lagging ticket sales to Wild Things games.Under the current county tax assessment, the ballpark is due to pay the township $10,267 in taxes a year. The township is beginning to experience some financial stress and is seeking advice on how to curtail spending from the state Department of Community and Economic Development. A DCED representative is expected to make a presentation at the next supervisors’ meeting Dec. 19.The amusement tax is expected to raise more than $38,000, money the township has always donated to the local fire department.Williams said his “gut reaction is not to pick up my marbles and leave.”“I have always said that the team is going to be there as long as the community wants it to be there,” he said. “The township is sending a negative message.”

Scott Beveridge is a North Charleroi native who has lived most of his life in nearby Rostraver Township. He is a general assignments reporter focusing on investigative journalism and writing stories about the mid-Mon Valley. He has a bachelor's degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a master's from Duquesne University. Scott spent three weeks in Vietnam in 2004 as a foreign correspondent under an International Center for Journalists fellowship.

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