Washington County hopes to become pilot for reassessment changes

March 19, 2013

The Washington County board of commissioners is again looking to Harrisburg to legislate changes in the property reassessment system, this time through a state Senate bill that would move the responsibility to the Department of Community and Economic Development.

The commissioners learned of the possible changes from State Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil, who said the Senate bill would direct DCED to create both an operations manual and a statewide database for reporting property values to be used by counties when reassessing; develop and maintain statewide training programs for anyone working with the value of property during a reassessment; and require that methodology and calculations that determine the value of property in counties and statewide to be made public.

“No matter what happens, I will not be a cheerleader for reassessment,” commission Chairman Larry Maggi said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon at the Courthouse Square office building.

Nicholas Gerek, White’s chief of staff, said Senate Bill 66 passed 49-0 and was voted out of committee in the State House earlier this month. Legislation requires three votes to pass the House, and Gerek said the second of those votes could occur as early as today.

Meanwhile, in court a few hours earlier, the attorney representing the Washington County commissioners in the property reassessment sought by the Washington and McGuffey school districts said the board is seeking proposals from firms that would be interested in conducting the countywide project.

Attorney Robert Grimm said the county is contacting vendors who submitted proposals in 2009, requesting proposals through its own website, and advertised today in the Westmoreland County-based Valley Independent, which circulates on both sides of the Mon Valley.

President Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca asked why the county did not advertise in the Observer-Reporter, which she called “a recognized publication of general circulation in the county.”

Grimm called advertising in the Valley Independent “less expensive than the Observer-Reporter,” but did not provide any cost comparisons at the hearing.

As late as Friday, county officials said they had not made a decision on placing the ad, a significant step in the reassessment process.

Scott Fergus, county administrator, said the decision to advertise was made Monday.

Maggi said the board agreed “reluctantly” to seek the proposals.

The county’s last reassessment, completed in 1979, took effect in 1981.

The county and school districts have been in court since 2008, when O’Dell Seneca ordered that, barring a change in state law, she expected to see the commissioners undertake a property reassessment within their then-current terms of office, which expired Jan. 1, 2012.

The next status conference, and the school district’s request that the commissioners be held in contempt of court for failing to reassess property, has been scheduled for June 4.



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