Judge R. Stanton Wettick has entered his Opinion and Order in the case of James C. Clifton, Charles and Lorrie Cranor, husband and wife, and Roy Simmons and Mary Lisa Meier, husband and wife v. Allegheny County, No. GD 05-28638 and Kenneth Pierce and Stephanie Beechaum v. Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, Daniel Onorato its Chief Executive and Deborah Bunn its Chief Assessment Officer at No. GD 05-28355. Judge Wettick ruled that the Allegheny County base year assessment system implemented for tax year 2006 is unconstitutional since it is in violation of the Uniformity Clause of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Pursuant to the provisions of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, tax assessments must be uniform. In analyzing the base year assessment system, Judge Wettick determined that the system is in violation of the uniformity clause since it results in underassessments for properties located in appreciating areas and overassessments for properties located in depreciating areas. In coming to this conclusion, Judge Wettick analyzed the range between the market values and assessments through the Commonwealth and found them to be unacceptable, resulting in significant inequality and an unconstitutional lack of uniformity. Judge Wettick held that assessment laws that allow the use of a base year assessment, without requiring reassessment, violates the uniformity clause because “(1) base year assessments are not intended to assess all properties at the same percentage of assessed value to actual value, (2) base year assessments inherently cause significant disparities in the ratio of assessed value to market value, and (3) base year assessments inevitably discriminate against owners of properties in lower value neighborhoods.” Because the ruling involved a statewide issue (constitutionality of the use of a base year method of assessment), Judge Wettick reasoned that Allegheny County should not be governed by reassessment standards that do not apply to Pennsylvania’s other 66 counties. Therefore, in the interest of justice, the Order provided that Allegheny County was to continue to assess property in the same manner as all other counties (i.e., utilizing the current base year system), while the anticipated appeal of the Order is pending in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. However, he did order countywide reassessments for tax years 2009 and 2010.
Alfred C. Maiello is the founding member of MBM and has represented area school districts as solicitor for 50 years. He counsels school districts and educational institutions on leading developments in school law and guiding them through their day-to-day and long-term challenges.