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Monday, September 17, 2012

Allegheny County Controller says accountability for the new reassessment values rests with county officials

Posted By on Mon, Sep 17, 2012 at 2:17 PM

The firm who conducted Allegheny County's court-ordered property reassessment can't be blamed for the disparate final numbers, says Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner.

In a report Wagner released today after a five-month review of the contract county officials signed in 2010 with Tyler Technologies, Inc., she says the company did only what it was asked to do. That conclusion led her office to finally release about $650,000 owed to the firm, which it been withholding (a small percentage of the overall $8.3 million the company has been paid to date since it began working for the county).

Wagner says the responsibility for the final numbers rests with those who could have crafted a better contract, including former County Executive Dan Onorato and current County Executive Rich Fitzgerald (who amended the contract in February).

"We could have asked [Tyler] to do a lot more," Wagner says.

Quality controls that would have tested whether the generated appraisals were fair before they were released were weakened, possibly to save time and money, she says.

That has cost taxpayers "an arm and a leg" not just financially but in time spent responding to the values they were given, she says. She advocated for the county to put in place a better reassessment system even as it fights the court order that sparked the reassessment and lobbies for statewide uniformity in assessing properties.

Such reform "may take years and years," she says. "And it may never come from Harrisburg."

In a written response to Wagner's report distributed with its release, Timothy Johnson, director of the Department of Administrative Services, says the county did not enter into the contract with Tyler Technologies voluntarily.

"The terms of those contracts were, for all practical purposes, dictated by the court through an extensive and constantly shifting series of hearings and rulings," he says. "Any suggestion, direct or implicit, that the county unilaterally dictated contract terms and requirements is a misrepresentation of the realities."

Wagner says county officials provided no documentation to support the claim that the court mandated the weakened terms.

"No data supports (the idea) that we couldn't have had more teeth in this contract," she says.

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