School districts withdrawing contempt-of-court request in reassessment case

August 27, 2013

Now that the Washington County commissioners have entered into a contract with Tyler Technologies to reassess all real estate in the county, board members of Washington School District voted to withdraw a contempt-of-court request against the panel.

A hearing had been scheduled for Wednesday morning in Washington County Court before President Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca. Susan Mondik Key, school district solicitor, said McGuffey School District also had directed her to withdraw its contempt request.

“I hope they do,” Washington County Solicitor Mary Lyn Drewitz said Tuesday afternoon when contacted for comment.

The commissioners announced Aug. 14 that, because they had run out of options, they chose the lowest bidder, Tyler, at $6.96 million, for the reassessment.

The county’s last reassessment took effect in 1981, and Washington and McGuffey school districts took the commissioners to court in 2008 to force another one.

Despite an agreement between the parties that the county would begin a reassessment by Sept. 30, 2009, and finish it by the expiration of their terms of office at the close of 2011, the commissioners appealed to higher courts, exhausting their efforts this past spring.

Key, in a news release, called the appeals “frivolous ... Now that a reassessment is imminent, each taxpayer will finally pay (his or her) fair share of taxes.”

Although the school districts have agreed to withdraw their petition for contempt, they reserve the right to re-file it.

“It is anticipated the court will continue to schedule status conferences at periodic intervals and that the school districts will participate in those conferences,” Key continued.

In a discussion of the property reassessment process, David Johnson, president of appraisal services for Tyler Technologies, said earlier this month that data collectors, wearing chartreuse vests and carrying identification, will not be entering people’s homes. Tyler expects it will take a full year to collect data, and property owners will receive notice of their new assessments about July 1, 2016. Tax bills based on the new assessment won’t be issued until Jan. 1, 2017. The firm plans to offer an informal round of meetings with property owners who believe their assessment is erroneous.

Johnson said his firm will be conducting the entire assessment here. Tyler personnel and Allegheny County in-house staff handled Allegheny County’s most recent reassessment, but Controller Chelsa Wagner issued a report that was highly critical of Tyler and officials who crafted what she called a “weak” contract with the firm.

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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