Commissioners taking assessment case to Supreme Court

December 20, 2012
Barbara Miller/Observer-Reporter

After meeting with their attorneys, Washington County commissioners decided to petition the state Supreme Court to hear the ongoing reassessment case.

Washington and McGuffey school districts asked for a countywide property reassessment in 2008, and the parties have been in and out of court since then. Last week, President Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca called the case “a classic illustration of technical maneuverings and frivolous delays” by the commissioners. She ordered the commissioners and school districts “to fulfill their obligations.”

Commonwealth Court dismissed the county’s appeal of a Washington County court order on a technicality, but Commission Chairman Larry Maggi wants the Supreme Court to hear the argument and decide the case on its merits.

“Washington County cannot reassess under these current bad rules,” Maggi said Thursday morning. “There’s no way to update the system. We’re stuck in this legal limbo where we’re being forced to reassess. It is a case that’s of interest throughout the state. We don’t want to be the last county in the state to be forced to reassess under the old system.”

Maggi pointed to other counties which, like Washington, haven’t reassessed in at least 30 years: Blair, 1958; Butler and Crawford, 1969; Westmoreland, 1972; Forest, 1974; Huntingdon, 1978; and Beaver, 1982, according to a 2010 study by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania.

“We are taking every avenue to exhaust our options,” Maggi said, adding that Washington County, if permitted, would be willing to be part of a pilot program of reassessment reform.

Washington County began its last reassessment in 1979, and tax bills under that reassessment were sent out in 1981. The commissioners have estimated it will cost about $8 million to reassess real estate countywide.

Susan Mondik Key, attorney for the school districts, said after Washington County court’s latest order that the commissioners were “at the end of their rope.” She could not be reached immediately for comment.

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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