Washington County officials talk reassessment with DCED

June 5, 2013

Less than 24 hours since the term “contempt” again came up in court Tuesday, Washington County commissioners spent two hours behind closed doors, at least part of which included a discussion of the legal case centering on property reassessment.

After ending their public agenda-setting session, the commissioners were immediately joined by Robert Grimm, special counsel for the reassessment case. County solicitor Mary Lyn Drewitz was seen on her way to Courthouse Square, and county solicitor J. Lynn DeHaven was already in the conference room.

“We just had talks with people from the state,” said Washington County Commission Chairman Larry Maggi after emerging from the meeting about 12:30 p.m.

The commissioners had a 30-minute conference call with Clyde “Champ” Holman, deputy secretary for Community Affairs and Development at the state Department of Community and Economic Development, and attorney Peter Zug. Among Holman’s duties is technical assistance to local governments, according to the DCED website.

“We gave them the situation we were in, under a court order, under possible contempt of court,” Maggi said. “We gave them the deadlines the court gave us.”

Susan Mondik Key, attorney for the McGuffey and Washington school districts, who went to court in 2008 seeking the countywide reassessment, disputes Maggi’s assertion that a reassessment in Washington County is court-ordered.

The commissioners have expressed hope Washington County could be the first to reassess since the State Tax Equalization Board was placed under DCED.

“Washington County reached out to DCED to see if there was a away to assist or help with the pilot program,” wrote Edward Jordan, spokesman in Harrisburg, in an email in response to an inquiry. “The department is currently in the review process to determine the appropriate route to take.”

Maggi has no idea when DCED might have more information for Washington County.

“To reassess under the old system is like asking someone to be the last person shot in the war. We are trying to do it a better way,” he said.

The commissioners have a contempt-of-court hearing set for Aug. 28 in Washington County Court. Key said she wants sanctions against them for failing to have completed a countywide reassessment.

County officials last Friday opened three proposals from firms interested in winning a contract for the reassessment, a task that the county has estimated will cost taxpayers up to $8 million. The last reassessment took effect in 1981.

Although Key did not name him in court Tuesday, she said afterward that she and her legal team want to question Maggi as a prelude to the contempt proceeding. Maggi said he hasn’t been officially informed of this. She also wants to quiz Recorder of Deeds Debbie Bardella, who also is director of the county revenue department, which includes the assessment and tax claim offices.

“I have no problem with giving a deposition at this point,” Bardella said Wednesday.

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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