Wagner will audit reassessment appeals process, requests input from public
Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner today, on Tax Day, announced that her office will move forward with an audit of the County’s reassessment appeals process, examining property values and taxes, despite the Administration’s attempt to stall the audit. Wagner will review the process and determine if the Office of Property Assessment has complied with requirements to deliver fair assessments and appeals, and will use data received through a separate request to begin the analysis. In continued effort to receive the necessary information, she has requested the public’s help to provide information regarding their reassessment and appeal experiences, and will hold regional meetings in the coming months. Wagner has also asked the Administration to provide her, within two weeks, an update on any action taken to date regarding her previous 26 recommendations to improve the process.
“It is imperative that this process is critically reviewed and improved to prevent such chaos, confusion and cost to the County and taxpayers in the future,” Wagner said. “This audit is a continuation of our work since 2012 to ensure a fair and equitable reassessment and appeals, and to monitor windfall. It is unfortunate that the Administration has now decided to try to stall that work.”
Wagner informed the Department of Administrative Services of her office’s intention to analyze the appeals process on April 1. In response, County Solicitor Andrew Szefi stated in a letter that the County and its departments will not cooperate at this time because he believes the Controller is trying to conduct a performance audit. Wagner’s letter indicated that the engagement will be a non-audit service and, therefore, not a performance audit. It is the latest in the Administration’s string of attempts to prevent the Controller’s Office from doing its work.
Although the Administration blocked the Controller’s Office from accessing information necessary to begin its review, much of the same information was provided, without complication, in response to a separate and unrelated request from the Accounting Division for appeals information needed for the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report.
“We will move forward with analyzing the information we have at this time. It is my hope that the Administration will change course and cooperate with this engagement so that we can provide a most comprehensive analysis and report for the taxpayers,” Wagner said.
Wagner is looking to review the appeals process from January 1, 2013 through December 31, 2014, in order to determine if the Office of Property Assessment and Board of Property Assessment Appeals Review have complied with appeals process requirements.
“We’ve seen many examples that demonstrate that lower priced homes are disproportionately affected in this appeals process. Higher valued houses are receiving a larger tax break than lower priced homes, similar to what we saw with commercial properties, and taxpayers deserve to know why someone else might be getting a 50 percent discount on their assessment value when they’re only getting six or seven percent.”
Wagner requested and encouraged the public to share information about their own experiences throughout their reassessment and appeal. Property owners are invited to call 412-350-4300, email email@example.com. In the coming months, Wagner will also host meetings throughout the County to meet with residents and gather information.
This audit is Wagner’s most recent step in her continued work to review and improve the property reassessment process and monitor windfall. Wagner’s 2012 review of the reassessment indicated that the County’s reassessment contractor, Tyler Technologies, was unaccountable for its contract and not held to standard metrics for fairness. In a Taxpayer Alert, Wagner examined the impact that tax-exempt properties have on the County’s finances, determining that $95 million of revenue is lost as a result of nearly $17 billion in appraised value of exempt properties. In 2013, Wagner released an analysis of post-appeal property values, which revealed the effect of appeals on the County’s tax revenue, the effect of the process for each municipality and ward, and the top 30 properties with the largest reductions. In total, her reports produced more than two dozen recommendations.