Legal wrangling continues in reassessment case

January 23, 2013

Debbie Bardella, head of the Washington County tax revenue department, said she could have a legal advertisement ready “in an hour” if the commissioners gave her the go-ahead to seek proposals from vendors to perform a property reassessment.

But as lawyers representing the county and McGuffey and Washington school districts, which are seeking the reassessment, squared off in a Washington County courtroom, it was clear that the commissioners were not going to give that go-ahead any time soon.

The commissioners, who did not attend the proceeding Wednesday, are trying to have the Supreme Court tackle the reassessment case, which has been in one court or another since 2008.

“The bid is prepared and ready to go,” Bardella testified Wednesday afternoon. “The scope of the project has not changed.”

The commissioners interviewed vendors more than three years ago but never hired one.

Susan Key, attorney for the school districts, maintains the commissioners’ legal team missed more than one deadline and is making a futile effort to have the state’s highest court hear the case.

In December, Commonwealth Court quashed the county’s appeal.

Key also said the commissioners’ appeal to the Supreme Court is moot because they are seeking a stay of a Nov. 30, 2012, self-imposed deadline that has already passed.

“The commissioners are waiting for the Supreme Court to rule,” county attorney Robert Grimm told the judge.

At one point, President Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca said to Grimm, “I think you’re splitting hairs.” The commissioners contend they did not agree to reassess real estate countywide by entering into a consent order, and the judge asked whether they were spending taxpayers’ money in hopes that the Supreme Court would allow them to call the legal document something else.

“I’m going to schedule another status conference until the Supreme Court tells me I don’t have jurisdiction,” O’Dell Seneca said.

The sides agreed to meet in about six weeks.

The commissioners contend it would be wrong to have taxpayers foot the bill for a reassessment costing up to $8 million if the state reforms the property tax system.

The school districts note it’s been more than 30 years since Washington County has been reassessed and the county has changed so much during those decades that it’s impossible to apply exisiting rules to properties like The Meadows Casino that didn’t exist back then. They also say no propety tax reform by the state is imminent.

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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