Blair County receives praise for reassessment

BEDFORD – Praise for Blair County’s reassessment came from a surprising corner Tuesday: both sides of the assessment question in neighboring Bedford County, where two valuations over four years prompted headaches for taxpayers and government officials.

At their Tuesday meeting, the Bedford County commissioners said Blair County’s ongoing reassessment has involved the public in a way their own assessments – or at least the first, failed attempt in 2009 – generally didn’t. One of the landowners who long protested Bedford’s process as insufficiently transparent agreed, saying Blair County’s leaders are “looking out for the taxpayers.”

Meanwhile, the Bedford commissioners revisited the state’s Clean and Green program, an old issue that’s set to crop up in Blair County as reassessment moves forward.

“I think they’re doing a lot better job of getting information out ahead of time,” Bedford Commissioner Chairman Kirt Morris said of his counterparts to the north.

Blair County authorities have held one public meeting and plan to schedule more. They’re also providing an informational video for property owners who can expect shifting values and tax bills as the county carries out its first sweeping property-value change since 1958.

The county has retained the law firm Weiss Burkardt Kramer of Pittsburgh for legal expertise through the process.

In contrast, Morris said, the Bedford County commissioners didn’t reach out to individual homeowners during the 2009 reassessment and didn’t keep specialist attorneys on retainer for either attempt.

The first run in Bedford led to long lines outside county offices as taxpayers challenged their assessments. At one point, officials announced that armed sheriff’s deputies would sit in on tax hearings.

That reassessment ended with the commissioners at the time voting to uniformly shift values for all properties, further complicating the process. Those commissioners are no longer in office.

“It’s tough. People are accustomed to those 1950s values,” Morris said after the meeting.

Bedford County’s second attempt ended successfully last year, with fewer mathematical problems and relatively little public concern.

As the process moves forward in Blair County, Morris said, officials and landowners will likely face the same concerns they saw in Bedford: Some property owners will complain of unfair calculations or value hikes, while others will get their first experiences with the state’s Clean and Green tax system.

The system allows some landowners to file certain land types at a lower tax level than they would normally face. As in Bedford, some Blair County property owners whose 1950s-level land values rendered Clean and Green unprofitable might opt in to the system after the reassessment, Morris noted.

That would require another drive for public information, as the Clean and Green system can appear complicated to newcomers, he said. On Tuesday, when the commissioners voted to shift Clean and Green rates to meet state recommendations, even experienced landowners questioned the decision.

At the meeting, Bedford County landowner Terry Chalfant, who regularly challenged the commissioners during the reassessments there, said the county could take a page from Blair’s book.

He suggested that another, smoother reassessment in Bedford – the county’s third in a half-decade – could do the trick. Morris quickly dismissed the expensive idea.

“I don’t have $2 million to spend,” he said.

Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.