McGuffey pursues contempt order in reassessment flap

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School directors in McGuffey School District are asking that the Washington County commissioners be found in civil contempt for failing to begin a countywide property tax reassessment.


The board voted at its meeting last week to direct its solicitor, Susan Mondik Key, to file the petition at the next status conference before Washington County President Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca.


That status conference is set for 9:30 a.m. March 19.


The petition also will ask the court to have the county reimburse the school district for attorney fees associated with the case.


McGuffey and Washington school districts have been attempting since 2008 to compel the county to conduct a property tax reassessment, contending their residents are now overtaxed. Since the last reassessment was done in 1979, there has been increased commercial and residential development in the county.


Washington School Board will be deciding whether to join in the contempt order request. Its director of operations, Rick Mancini, said Monday he wasn’t sure whether the issue would be on that night’s agenda or come before the board at its March 11 meeting.


In December, the state Superior Court ordered the county to begin its reassessment, but the county has appealed that decision to the state Supreme Court, pointing out that other counties in the state have not reassessed for decades. However, Key previously noted it is wrong to compare heavily forested and sparsely populated counties in the state’s northern tier with Washington County, which now has a casino, new hotels and growing residential development in Peters and North Strabane townships.


Commissioners also have argued they should delay a reassessment in case statewide property tax reform is undertaken in the Legislature. Spending the estimated $8 million to do the reassessment now would be a waste of money for taxpayers, they say.


The school districts do not believe there will be immediate statewide property tax reform.


O’Dell Seneca held a status conference in January and scheduled another six weeks later to see what, if any, progress has been made.


Key said she will be presenting the request to hold the commission in contempt at that time.


“We’re saying they’re under a court order to do it, and that’s why we hold them in contempt,” she said.


Mancini estimated that Washington and McGuffey have spent about $30,000 each in legal fees to compel the county to begin the reassessment. It would be at the court’s discretion how much of those fees might be awarded back to the districts and how far back the compensation would go, said Key.


The school districts are sharing the attorney costs.


“Each time the school districts have had to go to court, they are paying,” Key said. “And the only reason we have to go to court is because the commissioners haven’t done anything.”


Larry Maggi, chairman of the county commissioners, did not immediately return a call seeking comment Monday.


This is the second time the school districts have attempted to have the court found in contempt. A similar request was dismissed in June 2011.


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