Supreme Court won’t hear Washington County reassessment case

Reassessment will proceed for county

April 9, 2013
Washington County’s Courthouse Square office building (O-R file photo)

Four-and-a-half-years after Washington County and two school districts faced off in court, the Washington County commissioners have lost their last-ditch attempt to forestall a countywide property reassessment.

In a 27-word order, the justices of the state’s highest court decided Tuesday they would not hear the case.

The Washington and McGuffey school districts filed legal documents asking the Washington County court to intervene because the last property reassessment took effect in 1981.

“This action by the Supreme Court means that the county and its elected officials have no further legal avenue to pursue in their attempts to further delay the reassessment,” said Susan Key, attorney for the school districts, in a statement.

“Since there is no other court that the commissioners can appeal to, they must proceed with the reassessment.”

Commission Chairman Larry Maggi, returning Tuesday from a trip to Harrisburg, said, “Twenty-seven words change the future of Washington County.”

Maggi visited the state capital for a state university council of trustees chairmen’s meeting and to discuss property tax reform with state Sen. David G. Argall, R-Schuykill, whose website proclaims, “Property Tax Independence Act; Liberty Equality Prosperity.”

He said the board of commissioners’ next step will be to meet in the next day or two with the county solicitors “and see what options we have; see what avenues we have to keep from dealing with this archaic system.

“It’s difficult to see why the Washington School District and McGuffey are so adamant about reassessing. We saw the turmoil of our neighbors to the north. The people don’t want reassessment, the county doesn’t want reassessment, yet we’re being forced by two school districts to do something that hasn’t changed in over 100 years.”

Key has said that a property reassessment will remove a tax burden from homeowners who have been paying more than their fair share and make property assessments more equitable.

Maggi put the price tag of a reassessment at $8 million, which will be borne by Washington County taxpayers through a bond issue.

“It is important to note that the county commissioners agreed to reassess Washington County when a consent decree was prepared by the county solicitor and given to Judge (Debbie) O’Dell Seneca for her signature on Nov. 25, 2008. In that consent decree, the elected officials agreed to commence a countywide reassessment by Sept. 30, 2009,” Key wrote.

“This was affirmed by the affidavit of commissioners dated Dec. 9, 2008, wherein they attested to the fact that they had reviewed the stipulation of facts and consent decree with their solicitor and agreed that the Sept. 30, 2009, date “by which to initiate the re-evaluation process is reasonable.”

Maggi disagreed.

“At no time did the board of commissioners agree to reassess,” Maggi said Tuesday. “We were agreeing to facts that were indisputable, period, and that’s the thought of all three commissioners.

“Lawyers can say what they want to say, put words on paper and play semantics with them. The board of commissioners did not agree to reassess, period.”

At a status conference last month, the commissioners, through their legal counsel, noted that they had advertised for proposals from vendors who would conduct the reassessment. The proposal process would remain open for 60 days.

Key is also seeking a contempt-of-court finding against the board of commissioners for failing to reassess property countywide, and that court hearing is scheduled for June 4.

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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