Washington County reassessment begins

September 26, 2013
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Katie Roupe / Observer-Reporter
Field data collectors Laurie Rux and Kevin Humiston go over paperwork before starting to collect data on their first houses for the Washington County reassessment project Thursday. Tyler Technologies started on Moffat Avenue and Lockhart Street in Washington, measuring and gathering information at properties for the initial step of reassessment. Order a Print
Image description
Katie Roupe / Observer-Reporter
Laurie Rux, field data collector for Tyler Technologies, fills out the initial form for the Washington County property reassessment project in front of a house on Moffat Avenue. Rux said that each field data collector aims to complete 20 properties per day. Order a Print

Thursday afternoon was, as former chief assessor Bob Neil put it, the first day for “boots on the ground” in the property reassessment battle that has been waged for half a decade.

On Moffat Avenue in Washington, a picture-perfect street of ranch-style homes and Cape Cod cottages with neat-as-a-pin lawns and gardens and trilling birds, a team of three field data collectors and their supervisor set in motion a project that has been the subject of litigation, argument, appeals, news stories, letters to the editor and vitriol.

As data collectors, they’re checking measurements that an appraiser looks at, along with many other factors, and places a value.

Washington’s 5th Ward, just east of East Washington, was chosen as the spot for deployment, not because Washington School District, along with McGuffey, filed a complaint against county officials for not conducting a property reassessment in nearly 35 years, but because the homes are fairly close together; some brick and some frame; and are a mix of both newer and older dwellings, according to Wesley Graham, project supervisor for Tyler Technologies Inc. of Moraine, Ohio.

Residents of the neighborhood, if not at home when the data collectors were out and about, were greeted with yellow door-hangers bearing the message, “Dear Property Owner: Sorry we missed you today,” and asking them to fill out a mailer about their home’s living accommodations, type of heat, remodeling and modernization.

County Commission Chairman Larry Maggi, at a news conference last month, said he and his colleagues were voting to reassess only because they had run out of options.

Two residents who happened to be out and about as the Tyler data collectors made exterior measurements of homes on Moffat took a dim view of the reassessment.

“It’s a bad idea. I think they’re going to spend a lot of money to make a little money,” said Marilyn Strang, a neighborhood resident of one week who was out walking.

She and her family moved to Peters Township in 1989 from Allegheny County’s South Hills “because of the schools,” she said, but now that her children are out of school, it was time to downsize. Plus, she works in Washington.

“The taxes here are better than Allegheny,” she continued. “It’s a shame, because I think there’s so much growth potential in Washington and raising taxes might dissuade some people from moving here.”

Pulling up in his pickup truck was Art Norris. “I hate to pay more for living here,” he said. “We already pay quite a bit. If (property taxes) go down, it’ll be nice, but I doubt that will happen.”

Graham said Tyler’s job is to place a value on every one of the 118,000 properties in Washington County. Because the county hasn’t been reassessed in nearly 35 years, he said he can’t imagine that values have gone down or stayed the same during that period. But he stressed that Tyler doesn’t set people’s tax rates. That job is up to the school district, municipality and county.

Data collection alone will take a year, and the property tax bills that arise from a reassessment won’t take effect until 2017.

But, for now, the data collectors are the face of the reassessment, and people sometimes ask them, “What is my house worth?”

“We’re not in that position right now,” Graham said.

Moffat and Lockhart Street are just the beginning. After finishing the 5th Ward, Tyler will be moving on to the 6th Ward, and then other parts of the city, announcing in advance the areas on which they’ll be focusing, and branching out to other parts of the county.

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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