Kesner Pleased with Tax Reassessment Suit Outcome

CLEARFIELD –County Solicitor Kim Kesner announced at Tuesday’s commissioners meeting that he was pleased with the decision of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania to uphold the dismissal of a county-wide reassessment suit filed by David W. Fox of Lawrence Township.

The higher court affirmed the ruling of Clearfield County President Judge Fredric Ammerman’s to dismiss Fox’s lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of himself and a committee of unidentified concerned citizens and brought against the county in January of 2010.

According to previous reports, Fox sought a county-wide property tax reassessment. He alleged that the county’s property tax system was unconstitutional, while it used the base-year system and also hadn’t conducted a reassessment in more than 20 years.

The lawsuit claimed that Fox’s property was being taxed at a higher percentage of the fair market value than other properties throughout the taxing area.

Ammerman dismissed Fox’s claims June 22, 2010, determining that Fox proceeded improperly and was “insufficiently pleading standing.” He also stated that Fox listed unnamed persons and failed to first exhaust the “statutory remedy” of filing an appeal with the board of assessment for his individual property.

In his complaint, Fox cited the Supreme Court’s decision in Clifton’s case against Allegheny County in which the Pennsylvania Supreme Court supported the lower court’s ruling that called for a county-wide property tax reassessment.

“The (court) limited the Clifton decision to Allegheny County,” Kesner said. He concurred, saying an urban area, such as Allegheny County, should not be compared with a rural county like Clearfield and many of the state’s 67 counties are diverse.

The Commonwealth Court affirmed the county’s position that Fox’s claim that his property is assessed disproportionately higher than other similar properties in the county should be pursued through the appeals process with the County Board of Assessment Appeals rather than subjecting the entire county to a reassessment.

“This is an issue that can readily be resolved by using the appeal procedure set forth in the Law, including the application of the CLR to determine the proper assessed value of Mr. Fox’s property,” the court stated. 

“Essentially, Mr. Fox seeks, as a remedy for the alleged over-assessment of his property to force the County to reassess every property therein.  This remedy is disproportionate to Mr. Fox’s desire to have his property properly assessed.” 

Kesner advised the commissioners that the Pennsylvania House of Representatives recently created two task forces to examine the state’s property tax assessment system.

According to HR 343, the first task force was formed to develop a set of uniform standards for county reassessment. This task force will be charged with:

  • developing a set of uniform standards for county reassessment contracting;
  • developing standards for disclosing the county’s system of property valuation and assessment;
  • developing a self-evaluation tool for counties to determine when a reassessment is warranted;
  • recommending a standard to be used for a statewide mandatory reassessment time frame; and
  • presenting any other recommendations to improve the system of property tax reassessment in Pennsylvania.

According to HR 344, a second task force is to develop criteria and procedures for data submission, verification and collection to address issues during reassessment. The task force is to develop criteria and procedures for counties to utilize when submitting data to the State Tax Equalization Board.

In addition, this task force is charged with developing criteria and procedures for data collection by those individuals or organizations conducting data collection on behalf of a county assessor. Both task forces are effective Aug. 26 and must report their results and present their findings to the Chief Clerk of the House of Representatives within six months.

When asked by the commissioners about any possibilities for an appeal in the Fox case, Kesner said a request for an appeal must be submitted within 30 days, and, in the case of an appeal, the county would have opportunity to respond. However, he said appeals are discretionary and decided upon by the state’s Supreme Court.

However, Kesner advised he hadn’t received any correspondence about an appeal.

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