School districts seek reassessment deadline

November 30, 2012
Barbara S. Miller/Observer-Reporter

Attorneys for two school districts and Washington County will be back in court next month for the latest development in the school districts’ attempt to force a countywide property reassessment.

Susan Mondik Key, who represents the Washington and McGuffey districts, plans to ask President Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca to set a deadline for the county to hire a vendor who will conduct the reassessment.

If the judge consents, Key is asking thar the board of commissioners face sanctions if the reassessment does not begin within a particular time period.

The school districts first went to court four years ago, and O’Dell Seneca granted the commissioners a delay that lasted nearly 17 months because county officials thought the state Legislature was poised to enact real estate tax reform.

Key noted in her latest court filing that the commissioners asked for a stay either “until the General Assembly has enacted legislation ... or until Nov. 30, 2012, which ever comes first.”

She hoped to have the court rule today, but because of scheduling conflicts, the matter is now slated for Dec. 11.

In the meantime, the Washington County reassessment case also is before Commonwealth Court.

Key contends the appellate court case, not yet decided, “is now moot since the sole issue on appeal was the denial of a request to stay the commencement of the reassessment until Nov. 30,” she wrote in her motion filed in Washington County Court.

Robert Grimm, the attorney representing the county, said Thursday it “would be inappropriate to discuss this matter until I present my case to Judge O’Dell Seneca or another judge.”

The county has claimed a property reassessment will cost taxpayers about $8 million, and that it would be foolish to spend this amount if the Legislature was going to enact property tax reform.

Washington County’s last reassessment took effect in 1981, and the two school districts are not the only governmental bodies that have expressed their displeasure with the system.

Earlier this week, Peters Township Council hired Key’s law firm, Peacock, Keller and Ecker, to represent the township in six tax appeals scheduled for trial in April.

Peters Council wants to see the county take part in tax assessment appeal hearings because the county is responsible for setting the assessment.

Council decided to send a letter to the county commissioners about its predicament and imposed a one-month deadline for a response. If the commissioners fail to respond, council will “condemn” the board’s inaction.

Barbara S. Miller covers politics, Washington County government and a variety of other topics for the Observer-Reporter. She is a graduate of Washington & Jefferson College, majoring in English and history. Follow her on Twitter @reporterbarb.

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