Holding a cane, Virginia Carik stood in line on Tuesday at the Allegheny County property assessment office to appeal the 228 percent increase in the assessed value of her South Side home where she’s lived for more than 60 years.
“The word is ‘unbelievable,’ ” said Carik, 86, whose home’s assessed value went from $43,700 to $143,500. “I live in an alley. It’s a frame house with siding that we put on in 1972. I wouldn’t buy it for that (price).”
She joined more than 400 fellow property owners at the County Office Building, Downtown, for the first day of informal appeals of property reassessments that have angered and confused homeowners across Pittsburgh. New County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, who took office in Oakland yesterday, pledged during his campaign to block the reassessment.
“This is everything that’s wrong with government,” said Steve Alber, 67, of Squirrel Hill, whose home value increased 30 percent — from $232,000 to $301,000. His Shadyside rental property increased from $114,000 to $371,000, or 225 percent.
“I laughed. I thought it was (delivered to the wrong address),” Alber said. “It’s almost beyond belief that officials could let this happen. If their objective is to depopulate this city, they’re heading in the right direction.”
Yesterday was the first step in the appeal process. Property owners can file with the Board of Appeals, the second appellate step, and then cancel that second appeal if they are satisfied with the results of the first appeal, said Tim Johnson, director of county Administrative Services. Ten years ago, about 100,000 people countywide appealed their reassessments.
Those who scheduled informal reviews — which continue until at least next week — met with county employees and contracted reviewers in one of 23 offices and cubicles on the building’s third floor. They were scheduled in 15-minute increments and then stood in a line to scan in their evidence, which included pictures and documents of comparable property sales. Homeowners will learn later whether the county would lower their assessment.
“The reviewers are there to listen and collect evidence and make a general recommendation to a final review team,” Johnson said. “The timeline is hard to say. The judge is controlling the process.”
Common Pleas Senior Judge R. Stanton Wettick ordered the countywide reassessment after ruling that continuing to use 2002 values was unconstitutional. He ordered county officials to mail the reassessment notices to Pittsburgh and Mt. Oliver residents last week. Suburban homeowners will receive updated assessments later.
Officials said higher assessments won’t necessarily mean higher taxes. Pittsburgh Public Schools and city officials will set new tax rates this month to follow state law that limits how much more money a government can collect through reassessments.
Property owners yesterday complained about the process, the judge, how leaders have handled the notifications and, in some cases, having to miss work to go Downtown.
“I feel that the people that did the reassessments didn’t have enough time to study the neighborhoods,” said Sandra Fundy of Mt. Washington, who was appealing assessments on eight properties. A property that she bought two years ago for $60,000 was assessed at $122,000, she said.
Ed Donnelly, 55, of Whitehall is appealing the assessment of a South Side house he bought 16 months ago for $49,900. The value had been set at $20,000 and increased to $107,000. His two sons live in the house.
“I knew it was low, but it went five times higher. I’ll pay the taxes on the $49,900,” Donnelly said. “If you bought a home recently, the assessment should be the market value.”
The assessment for John Hanna’s Knoxville home went from $40,000 to $89,000, an increase of nearly 123 percent.
“If they want to give me $89,000 for the house, I’ll take it. I’ll even knock 20 percent off of that,” Hanna said. “When I got the notice, I said, ‘Where do I file the appeal?’ and I got on the phone immediately.”
Fitzgerald announced that he was increasing staffing at the Office of Property Assessments to handle the requests for appeal reviews. He said he wants to double the number of phone lines from 40 to 80.
City homeowners who want to schedule a review must call 412-350-4600 or register online at apps.alleghenycounty.us/InformalReviews/ by Jan. 13. Fitzgerald said he added 30 staffers to handle the calls and e-mails.