Washington County takes assessment case to state’s highest court

January 10, 2013

An attorney for Washington County took the Washington and McGuffey school district’s demand for a countywide property reassessment to the state Supreme Court Thursday.

Robert Grimm, the county’s special counsel, asked the high court for permission to appeal an order of Commonwealth Court issued last month.

The county last month filed documents on reargument with Commonwealth Court related to Senior Judge James Gardner Colin’s decision to quash the county’s appeal, but it withdrew them before filing with the Supreme Court.

The case has been dragging on since 2008.

“We always said it’s bad law,” said Commission Chairman Larry Maggi.

“We’re not trying to stall; we’re trying to change the law. That’s how you change laws in this country. You challenge them. We read about Allegheny County and the debacle of reassessment weekly.”

The county has estimated a countywide property reassessment could cost up to $8 million, taxpayers’ money it does not want to spend in vain.

Susan Mondik Key disputed the cost figure, noting that estimates from vendors were lower than by millions of dollars. The county has not reassessed since 1981, and Key said keeping property assessments current is one of the duties of county commissioners. If they fail to do so, they can be surcharged.

“This appeal to the Supreme Court does nothing to challenge current assessment law in Pennsylvania,” Key said, adding that the appeal focuses on a much narrower issue.

“What they appealed was the denial of their request to stay the reassessment. This is a frivolous appeal because even when they asked for that stay, they only asked that the reassessment be stayed until Nov. 30, 2012.

“We do not expect the Supreme Court to accept their appeal.”

The county also asked the Supreme Court to address the matter of emergency supersedeas, which would hold the assessment in abeyance until courts resolve the matter.

Washington County President Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca addressed this issue last month in an opinion, writing that she may proceed with the case “to prevent the needless delay that would otherwise arise when a party takes a meritless appeal from a non-appealable order,” as she said the county did when it filed several months ago with Commonwealth Court.

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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