It might have been the most momentous vote members of Washington County Board of Commissioners have taken in more than three decades.
A year ago this month, Commissioners Larry Maggi, Diana Irey Vaughan and Harlan Shober – after facing a contempt-of-court hearing on the issue – unanimously voted to enter into a $6.97 million contract with Tyler Technologies Inc. of Moraine, Ohio, to conduct a countywide property reassessment five years after Washington and McGuffey school districts brought suit.
So, what’s happened during the past year?
“I knew it was a year,” said Robert Neil, Washington County’s reassessment project manager. “People are probably wondering what is going on. About one-third of the county has been data-collected. If not, we’re coming to see you.”
If no homeowner is present when a data collector arrives, the Tyler employee leaves a card for the homeowner to fill out and mail in.
That’s what happened to the chairman of the Washington County Board of Commissioners when he came home to Buffalo Township one day in May or June.
“I did my duty and filled it out,” said Maggi, who was a defendant in the five-year legal battle centering on reassessment. “You try to give as accurate information as possible. I still think it’s a total waste of taxpayer dollars. It’s going to create as many problems as it solves. The bottom line is the average taxpayer’s going to get hurt, I feel.”
Property owners were mailing back the cards at a rate of between 68 and 72 percent when Neil and Wesley Graham, project supervisor for Tyler Technologies, were interviewed in June. “It’s getting better,” Neil said Thursday. “It’s pretty much holding at 72 percent. That’s a pretty good return.”
The data collection card should not be confused with Tyler’s data mailer, which was sent out in late June so 4,686 property owners could check the information Tyler had and make corrections, if necessary.
About 450 property owners – nearly 10 percent – disagreed with Tyler’s data.
Ones that were returned noted that a home, for example, did not have two full baths, but a full bath and a half-bath, or came back with comments such as, “I don’t have a full basement” or “I don’t have a full attic.”
Owners of older homes in Washington or East Washington also called to Tyler’s attention that chimneys might reflect a particular number of fireplaces, but the fireplaces, once used as sources of heat, are merely decorative or have been sealed.
About 10 homeowners disputed the measurement of their homes, but Neil said the property owners were adding up interior measurements of rooms, not exterior measurements.
“We have to go by the outside measurement because that’s what the (computer-assisted) mass appraisal uses,” Neil said. Because of the thickness of walls, the exterior measurements will be slightly bigger than the sum of rooms’ interior dimensions.
Residential data collectors were working this week in Carroll Township, and next week they’ll be fanning out in Charleroi and North Charleroi. After completing their task in those two boroughs, they’ll be going to Ellsworth and river towns south of Charleroi down through Elco. Though a single data collector has been working in Peters Township, the county’s most populated municipality with 22,000 residents, a larger crew will be deployed there soon.
On the western side of the county, crews began data collection in West Finley, but when a major road closed in July, they curtailed their endeavor because traveling the detour route was too time-consuming. Road work was completed in time for classes in the McGuffey School District to resume, so reassessment work is also back on track.
Graham, who also worked on Allegheny County’s most recent property reassessment, is employing a few dozen people for the Washington County project, including three in-house supervisors, an office manager, five data input clerks, 20 residential data collectors, a group of six data collectors to begin training next week, three crew leaders and five commercial data collectors.
Imaging using a camera in a van “is pretty much completed,” Neil said. Rural mobile homes will be photographed with a hand-held camera when a data collector visits the property.
“It’s not so much that we’re off the beaten path,” he explained. “The parcel number was not coinciding with the landowner.”
A low point for the project took place over the summer when criminals took advantage of a Hickory resident.
In July, a man posing as a “surveyor” for the reassessment distracted a Mt. Pleasant Township woman while an accomplice burglarized her home, stealing about $650 worth of jewelry, coins and cash.
“They haven’t caught the two actors,” Neil said. “I’m sorry for the lady that had that happen to her. At least she didn’t get hurt, and, so far there’s been just one incident.”
He cautioned any property owner approached by someone claiming to be part of a reassessment team to check for a Tyler Technologies photo identification card and a chartreuse vest bearing Tyler’s name.
“If they don’t have that Tyler vest on and ID, they’re not working on the reassessment,” Neil said. Anyone who has questions about someone who identifies himself or herself as a data collector can call Tyler’s office in Arden at 724-228-5019.