County selects firm for data

HOLLIDAYSBURG – A team of data collectors may be organized and ready in June to begin gathering property information for Blair County’s first reassessment since 1958.

Commissioners voted Tuesday to work with the Greensburg firm of Evaluator Services & Technology Inc. and directed consultant Janet Burkardt of Pittsburgh to negotiate a proposed contract with the company.

Burkardt performed the same task for Indiana County now in the midst of its first reassessment since 1968. Ten months ago, Indiana County commissioners hired EST Inc. to handle reassessment at a cost of $51.77 per parcel.

Blair County’s per parcel price will probably be similar to what Indiana County paid, Burkardt said Tuesday after addressing commissioners at their weekly meeting. But Blair County’s price, she added, could be lower to account for the work EST Inc. did to set up Blair County’s Computer Assisted Mass Appraisal (CAMA) system. In February, Blair commissioners hired EST Inc. at $97,857 to create a CAMA system to computerize tax assessment records that are now on paper cards.

Commissioners Chairman Terry Tomassetti asked Burkardt how soon a proposed contract with EST Inc. would be ready for county Solicitor Nathan Karn to review. Burkardt estimated two weeks.

As long as no problems arise in negotiating the contract, a public meeting to explain and kick-off the reassessment process will be scheduled in May, Burkhardt said.

Data collectors, who will need to be hired and trained, could be ready to start working in June on a process that Burkardt said will last about six or eight months.

Commissioners unanimously agreed to have Burkardt work a contract with EST Inc. as opposed to Tyler Technologies Inc. of Dallas, Texas. Under state law, the county is not required to advertise for bids because reassessment is considered a professional service.

“Tyler has 75 years of doing countywide reassessments across the United States,” Burkardt told Blair County commissioners in a 13-page report in support of hiring EST Inc. “[But] they do not specialize in a particular state nor do they claim extensive knowledge of Pennsylvania general county assessment law.”

Burkardt’s report also states that Tyler Technologies handled recent reassessments in Allegheny, Bedford, Fayette, Erie and Carbon counties while EST Inc. has handled recent reassessments in Perry, Cumberland, Lebanon, Adams and now Indiana County.

Burkardt said her review of the results, in addition to post-assessment evaluations by independent resources, indicate EST Inc. is the better vendor for Blair County because of its experience, its knowledge, its past performance and its knowledge of Pennsylvania laws.

She also named price as a reason for selecting EST Inc. because, when Indiana County asked for proposals from reassessment vendors, Tyler Technologies initially submitted a quote of $60.63 per parcel, then reduced that to $56.62 per parcel – both higher than the $51.77 per parcel expense that EST Inc. charged.

Commissioner Ted Beam Jr. said he read Burkardt’s report and the issues she reviewed to make her recommendation.

“I think EST would be the best firm,” Beam said.

Commissioner Diane Meling also referred to Blair County’s history with EST Inc., formerly known as 21st Century Appraisals. Former commissioners Barry Wright, Donna Gority and Terry Wagner hired 21st Century in 2007 to manage the assessment office after failing to find a certified chief tax assessor to succeed Charles “Bud” McGrain. The company continues to provide that service.

Commissioners also received a letter Tuesday from Fred Albright of Altoona who told them he objects to the pursuit of reassessment. He suggested that commissioners should seek legislative changes so they have more revenue options than the real estate tax.

“You haven’t gone far enough, and you haven’t gotten tough enough,” Albright said.

Tomassetti also mentioned a recent letter to the editor in the Mirror, suggesting commissioners consider the levy of an income tax instead of pursuing reassessment.

“That would be great, but we don’t have that option,” Tomassetti said. “The state doesn’t permit counties to levy an income tax.”

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.