Blair County bracing for reassessment appeals

HOLLIDAYSBURG – Blair County and its court system must prepare for as many as 6,000 appeals that could follow the first reassessment since 1958, a consulting attorney has advised.

Because the court system typically handles between two and nine appeals annually, Senior Judge Hiram Carpenter said Tuesday that plans will need to be made.

“We’re going to have to talk about this,” Carpenter said while addressing attorneys at the Jeremiah S. Black Inn of Courts dinner meeting and directing his statement toward President Judge Jolene Kopriva. She nodded in agreement.

Blair County commissioners recently committed to a reassessment of all properties and initiated record-keeping improvements in the tax assessment office.

Commissioners also hired the Pittsburgh law firm of Weiss, Burkardt & Kramer LLC for consulting services after the firm finished a study concluding that reassessment is long overdue. The study pointed to the county’s wide range of assessments on properties selling for the same price and additional comparison factors to illustrate a lack of fairness.

Attorney Janet Burkardt, while speaking at the dinner meeting, said her prediction of 6,000 appeals is based on the typical 10 percent prompted by a reassessment.

Blair County, according to an inventory of properties reported in the study, has 65,469 taxable parcels and 3,176 exempt properties.

Before an assessment appeal gets into the court system, attempts are generally made to resolve the appeal in the county tax assessment office or before the county Board of Assessment and Revisions, currently composed of the commissioners.

Because the commissioners won’t be able to handle all of the post-assessment appeals, Burkardt said that boards will need to be set up to assist with the process.

“With 60,000-some assessments, there’re going to be some errors,” she said.

Commissioners, who are currently depending on Burkardt’s firm to evaluate companies that could be hired to handle the door-to-door work involved with reassessment, have had no public discussions about setting up appeal boards.

That’s the value of having Burkardt as a consultant because she is familiar with the entire reassessment process, Commissioner Diane Meling said.

Hollidaysburg attorney Bob Rea asked Burkardt about assessment values assigned to similar residential properties, one of which has been remodeled inside and one that hasn’t.

“How can they tell one’s been remodeled?” Rea asked.

“From the outside,” Burkardt said.

The data collectors who visit each property do not enter the residences but collect and note information from outside, in addition to measurements. Property owners are also asked to complete a questionnaire covering when the residence was built, the number of rooms, bathrooms and utility connections.

Before that process begins, Burkardt said her firm will assist Blair County with preparing information and arranging a public kickoff meeting, probably in June, to educate and inform residents about reassessment.

“This will be the most transparent process ever,” Burkardt said.