Commissioners’ alleged contempt off table for now in reassessment case

May 13, 2013
Washington County Courthouse

Washington County has extended by two weeks its request for proposals from vendors seeking to perform a reassessment, and a contempt-of-court hearing that was scheduled next month is now categorized as a “status conference.”

Proposals from the vendors had been due Friday, but the county sought the extension to May 31 because of several inquiries from vendors.

Last week, the county added clarifications to its request for reassessment proposals, including its search for a computer-assisted mass-appraisal system that will complement “the county’s desire to accomplish the best-quality job at the most reasonable cost.”

There is no deadline for awarding a contract once proposals are opened.

“There’s a process of due diligence that has to be met,” said Randy Vankirk, county purchasing director. “We don’t want to rush to make an award until we’ve gone through a thorough process.”

Although the names of vendors who respond to a request for proposals will become public May 31, the cost won’t be revealed until a confidential interview process is completed and the commissioners reach the point of awarding a contract.

At least one question placed on the county website had to do with the extent of the work, whether the vendor would be responsible for figuring tax bills for just the county, or for school districts and for municipalities.

The clarification of specifications states, “updates to property records in the computer-assisted mass-appraisal system software will automatically generate notices to other users of the revenue management system to include tax collectors, the tax claim office, treasurer’s office, geographic information system” and others.

Firms submitting proposals must date and sign a copy of the clarification.

Susan Key, the attorney who went to court on behalf of the Washington and McGuffey school districts five years ago to have real estate reassessed countywide, said that the county delivered to her on Friday two boxes of documents totaling about 3,000 pages in response to her request to take depositions from county officials, including the commissioners.

The county solicitor and special counsel, Robert Grimm, objected to the taking of sworn testimony before a contempt proceeding and, in reaching a compromise, agreed to deliver documents May 10.

President Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca said Monday morning she will convene the status conference on the reassessment issue June 4. The date falls just two years after the school districts first sought a contempt-of-court finding against the commissioners.

O’Dell Seneca declined at that time to hold the commissioners in contempt for failing to initiate a countywide property reassessment, but she ordered the board to sign a contract that summer with a vendor who would provide computer software for the reassessment and have financing in place to cover the cost, which could be as much as $8 million.

The commissioners filed an appeal, and the assessment case stalled for most of 2012 in Commonwealth Court. Last month, the state Supreme Court declined to hear the commissioners’ petition for review.

Washington County’s previous property reassessment took effect in 1981.

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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