Wednesday, January 23, 2008

PA County: Tax Assessment Appeals Review by Independent Process

Update: The board of commissioners appointed an independent panel to hear assessment appeals on a vote of the two Democratic board members, Vincent Victites and Chairman, Vincent Zapotosky.

Board to appoint tax assessment appeals board. That three-panel board will be scheduled to hear testimony from individuals who own business or residential properties. The commissioners are slated to vote to appoint either themselves, or an independent body. Opinion among the board of commissioners may be divided on this one. In the last administration, the board had a mix. They kept themselves in the process, and they appointed additional groups to review and hear some over 10,000 appeals to the county tax assessments on property.

The new administration of commissioners should now remove themselves from the process.

Another re-evaluation of properties will be completed in about a year, in 2009, during the term of the current administration. There may not be an equal amount of appeals to those conducted in the past, but the appeals will continue to consist of those presented by large corporations who own property in the county and family farmers and middle-income persons who own residences and small businesses.

As the county is largely funded through real-estate property taxes, and the tax assessment office under control of the commissioners, ultimately, has a hand in evaluating those properties for tax assessment purposes, there is simply put built-in incentive for the county to want to retain as many large assessments as allowable by law.

In fact, the county department of tax assessment is this time around actually conducting the re-evaluation process, unlike the situation beginning around year 2000. An outside group hired by the board of commissioners conducted the re-evaluations.

In appeals, the county (attorney for the tax assessment office) will argue to retain the assessment or evaluation set by way of the tax assessment office conducting the re-assessments.

That process itself is fraught with potential conflicts, at least for setting potentially higher estimates on large "improved" properties and those owned by the wealthy or corporations.

There may be political motive on the other hand to lower the assessments of the little people upfront, and potential motive for the non-independent board, that consisting of commissioners, to lower the assessment in the appeal for little Jack and little Jill and save the family farm.

There is no such incentive with an independent board consisting of members who have nothing to lose politically or in the way of revenues to the county, or gain in the way of votes from the little guy whose property tax was lowered by $100 or so.

A conflict might arise in addition pertaining to the county's new code which includes some latitude for improvements to "historical" properties. Faced with an appeal from such, the commissioners may be tempted to "protect" the historical property and reduce the tax assessment to further such improvements.

The board should revert back to appointing an independent board which is once-removed from any such potential or even the appearance of potential for political decisions.

Net the Truth Online

New Fayette appeal board likely
By Mary Pickels
Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Fayette County Chairman Vincent Zapotosky likely will be the tie-breaker Thursday, when the three county commissioners will decide whether to continue hearing tax assessment appeals themselves or to appoint an independent board.

The commissioners are leaning 2-1 for establishing the independent body.

The appeals board hears and rules on property owners' appeals regarding their properties' assessed value. Assessed value determines property taxes.

In 2004, Commissioner Angela Zimmerlink and former Commissioner Joseph A. Hardy III voted that the commissioners would serve as the appeals board. Commissioner Vincent Vicites at that time voted against the measure, preferring to keep an independent board.
That preference continues, Vicites said after a commissioners' agenda meeting Tuesday. Only this time, Vicites will probably have the support of Zapotosky, a fellow Democrat who took office in January.

Zimmerlink said yesterday that she still believes appeal hearings are part of the commissioners' role.

"I'm leaning toward independent" members, Zapotosky said.

Three appointees would each serve a four-year term on the board.

Commissioners to determine composition of tax panel
By Amy Zalar, Herald-Standard
Updated 01/22/2008 12:06:05 AM EST
The three Fayette County commissioners will decide next week if they want to continue to serve as the tax assessment appeals board for the next four years or if they will appoint others to make up the board.

The tax assessment appeals board is responsible for hearing and ruling on appeals by property owners regarding the assessed value of their properties, which affects how much they pay in property taxes.

For the past four years, former Commissioner Joseph A. Hardy III and Commissioners Vincent A. Vicites and Angela M. Zimmerlink heard the appeals. When the commissioners voted to take on that role in early 2004, Hardy and Zimmerlink voted in favor of it and Vicites voted against it. Vicites wanted to keep an independent board as had been done when the county undertook a property tax reassessment, the first in decades.

Because Vicites and Zimmerlink are still in office and are of different opinions, commission Chairman Vincent Zapotosky will be the deciding vote on the matter when it comes up at the commissioner's agenda and regular monthly meetings on Tuesday and Thursday, respectively.

Zimmerlink said Friday that her position hasn't changed since she first took office in early 2004.

"Four years ago, I thought this function could be performed by the commissioners and I haven't changed my mind," she said.

"Fellow commissioners may look to reverting back to a board which the commissioners appoint, but as many know, just because it is called an independent board does not mean there aren't political influences," Zimmerlink said...

County studies vehicle donation
By Amy Zalar, Herald-Standard
The commissioners also are slated to take action Thursday regarding whether they will serve as the tax assessment appeals board for the next four years or appoint an independent board to hear the appeals. The board determines how much a property owner is charged in property taxes. For the last four years, the commissioners have served in that capacity, but it was an independent board the prior four years.

Zimmerlink is in favor of the commissioners handling the duties, Vicites is in favor of an independent board and Zapotosky has not yet made his decision known.

Fayette County chief assessor James A. Hercik said the county is in the midst of a reassessment, and he doesn't know how many appeals will be filed. The last time the county went through a property reassessment - the first in more than 40 years - there were 10,000 appeals, Hercik said.

Hercik said he doesn't anticipate more than 10 to 15 days of hearings this year, but can't guess how many appeals would be heard in 2009.

Hercik said in the spring of 2009, the reassessment notices will be sent to property owners and the appeals will be held in the summer and fall, and must be completed before Oct. 31, 2009, before the new values take affect in Jan. 1, 2010.

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