Millcraft wins court round in tax overpayment case

March 21, 2013
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Developments Thursday in a Millcraft Center court case against the City of Washington recalled a quote from Yogi Berra: “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”

In the course of several hours, it seemed the matter was over, but only time will tell. Mayor Brenda Davis was fuming about the turn of events.

This began when Millcraft Center LP was notified late last year that it had overpaid its taxes due to what the Washington County Tax Revenue Department called a “clerical error on land square footage calculation.” City officials also referred to it as a surveyor’s error.

The county notified Millcraft of the miscalculation, and the county and school district promptly issued refunds.

The valuation of the office building at 90 West Chestnut St. decreased by $24,079, and because Millcraft had overpaid the city for five years, 2007 through 2011, it wanted $42,583 plus interest and costs.

When mid-February arrived with no refund of property tax money from the city, the limited partnership went to court, filing a complaint in which it asked a judge to compel the city to refund the overpayment.

A sheriff’s deputy hand-delivered a copy of the complaint to City Hall Feb. 19, and Millcraft’s attorney, Greg Biernacki, filed a brief to explain his position.

Biernacki went to court Thursday morning and won a judgment against the city of $48,063, including interest and costs of bringing suit.

President Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca noted along with her order that no representative of the city nor the solicitor appeared or filed a response to the suit.

Lane Turturice, city solicitor, was representing a defendant in a criminal case Thursday morning in Allegheny County court, and he learned of Biernacki’s trip to Washington County court while in Pittsburgh and said he was “shocked.”

Reached mid-afternoon, Turturice raised the possibility of going to court to have the judgment against the city opened, but then called back a few hours later to report a completely different development.

“In my professional legal opinion, the city owes the refund and has always owed the refund since the request was made a month and a half ago,” Turturice said late Thursday afternoon.

“I have spoken to a majority of council and conveyed my opinion that the city take no further action on the case. They also agreed that the money is owed.”

That necessitated a second call for comment to the mayor.

“Well, I can tell you that we have not had an executive session today,” she said. “I don’t know who his majority was.

“We need to know, why was the city in court with Millcraft this morning? The solicitor has some explaining to do.”

Greg Biernacki, the attorney who represents Millcraft, also said late Thursday afternoon, “Yes, I feel they were notified. We sent the original complaint by way of a sheriff’s deputy, and the mayor commented in an article in the Observer-Reporter.

We are satisfied, obviously, with the judge’s determination, and we’re happy to see the city has decided not to pursue this action any further.”

Brian Walker, chief financial officer of Millcraft Center LP, said, “It shouldn’t have even had to go to court. We shouldn’t even be having this conversation. Denny Adams (city treasurer) cut a check, and city council has been sitting on it for 90 days. We pay our taxes, and if we overpay, we’re due a refund and they have to pay it.”

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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