Reassessments are postponed, but you should still file an appeal

Well, maybe, finally, the dust has settled.  The controversial reassessment figures won’t be used until next year.  But they will come into play eventually, so property owners who feel their reassessment was too high still should file for a formal appeal.  The deadline to file is February 10 and it’s easy to do; just fill out this form (you can also pick up a copy at the PHCA office), fill it out, and mail it in .

At the January Polish Hill community meeting, guest speaker Wayde Fargotstein, from the Allegheny County Assessment office gave residents some pointers on presenting an effective case.

— In deciding whether to appeal, look at the overall value of the property.  Don’t get distracted by the increased land values; look at the overall number.  If the total is consistent with what comparables are selling for, you might be better off accepting the assessment.

— You need to show some comparables, or comps, (properties with characteristics that are similar to the property whose value is being sought) from your area.  Wayde noted that although there are comps on your property page, it’s better to select your own.  You can find information on comparable properties on the Allegheny County Assessment website — go to the bottom of this page, click on Continue, and enter your street name, or the name of a street nearby that has similar properties.  When you enter just the street name, a list of all the properties on that street will come up.  Find three that have been sold within the last two years and are close to your property in size and condition.  For each, print out the information page, also the second page, with property condition, and the photo.  That’s three sheets for each comp — now make 3 copies of each.  You will have to leave the paper documentation with the officers.

— Keep in mind that assessments are about market value, not what you paid for your house.  If there’s a reason why your property is worth less than comparables, you need to prove it with documentation.  Maybe the roof leaks, it needs new windows or a furnace.  Take pictures of all conditions that would reduce the value.  Other valid forms of documentation might be receipts for repairs, or estimates from contractors.

— If your house has been appraised by a licensed professional in the past couple of years, take that appraisal.

District 7 Councilman Patrick Dowd’s office has been keeping track of properties sold recently and are compiling a list of recent sale prices.  Seniors and others without internet access can call Councilman Dowd’s office at 412.255.2140 for help in finding comps; the office can send copies of info in the mail.


What a crazy week!  Bracing for the long haul, PHCA staff researched, collected, and made copies of forms.  We studied up, attended informational meetings, took notes, and got ready.

And yesterday, to everyone’s relief, the powers that be said, “Never mind”.  Here, from the Allegheny County website:

Effective January 5, 2012, Allegheny County has certified the 2011 assessed values for use countywide for taxation purposes.  This means that the property values will remain at the 2002 base-year value adjusted for any new construction and appeals, as is done each year.  At this time Informal reviews will not be rescheduled.

The market values released for the City of Pittsburgh and Mt. Oliver are not being used.  Property owners who have scheduled an informal hearing that has not yet been conducted will have that hearing canceled.

If you have problems or concerns related to your 2011 value, file for a formal appeal on or before March 31.  If you have any questions, please contact the Office of Property Assessments at 412-350-4600 or

We should note that according to an article in the Post-Gazette, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl…encouraged city residents to continue filing formal appeals if they think their new assessment is incorrect in case the court overturns Mr. Fitzgerald’s action.”

Filing for a formal appeal is simple, just fill out this form and mail it in.  We also have copies of this form at the PHCA office.  If the action stands, you will have to cancel the appeal in writing.

Let’s hope it stands…this has been a stressful week for Pittsburgh property owners.

(Above:  At the property tax reassessment public meeting at the Stephen Foster Center in Lawrenceville, January 3.  Photo by Leslie Clague for the PHCA)

Discuss the property tax reassessments and other neighborhood concerns at the Polish Hill community meeting on January 3 at 6:30 pm

At the next neighborhood community meeting (held on Tuesday January 3 at 6:30 p.m. in the senior room on the lower level of the West Penn Recreation Center), one of the main points of discussion will be the property tax reassessments.  Most Polish Hill property owners we’ve heard from have reported that their assessment went up by about 250%; a few got increases of as much as 400%.  We’re getting a lot of calls and visitors asking what they should do.   Short answer:  if you disagree with your assessment, you have through January 13 to apply for an informal review.  Here is a list of answers to frequently asked questions about the process.  And here is the link to the Informal Review page.  You can also call 412-350-4600.  (Here is some more information on how to appeal from the local CBS station.)

District 7, along with the City’s Finance Department, will host two public meetings on January 3, 2012 to explain the appeal process and to answer residents’ questions. The first will be held in Lawrenceville at the Stephen Foster Center, 286 Main Street, at 12noon, and the second in Morningside at the VFW, 1820 Morningside Avenue, at 6pm.

Homeowners should also look into the Homestead exclusion; if you are eligible, it can ease your property taxes.  Offered by the City of Pittsburgh since 2001, this program reduces the value of your home by $10,000.  The 2011 City of Pittsburgh Real Estate Tax Savings is $108.00.  Here is a printable application form, and here are the instructions.

Here’s an article from yesterday’s Post-Gazette about the impact the reassessment letters have made.

(Above:  PHCA president Terry Doloughty reacts to the reassessment letter for the organization’s building; the assessed value went up 250%.  Photo by Leslie Clague)

Learn more about the property assessment appeal process on January 3, 12:00 p.m.

As Pittsburgh property owners brace for the upcoming reassessments, the news is that the average assessment will rise by about 50%.  Property owners are also being told that they can appeal the

Pittsburgh has seen big changes in home values over the last decade.  Earlier this year, the Tribune put out an interesting chart showing the average sale prices on homes in the various wards, compared assessed value was.  In most cases, homes were being assessed for much lower than they were actually selling for.  But big jumps in tax assessments will be difficult for homeowners.

If you have questions about the Allegheny County property assessment appeal process, you are invited to join the office of Councilman Patrick Dowd and Lawrenceville United for an educational presentation by the Finance Department of the City of Pittsburgh on the Allegheny County property assessment appeal process.  The presentation will take place on Tuesday, January 3, 2012 at 12:00 p.m. at the Stephen Foster Community Center of CYA, 286 Main Street, in Lawrenceville.

Finance Department staff will educate homeowners about the Allegheny County property assessment appeal process and the impact on City of Pittsburgh property taxes.  Finance Department staff are not capable of addressing questions about individual assessments.

Questions about the meeting can be directed to the Office of City Councilman Patrick Dowd at 412-255-2140 or

Additional resources:

City of Pittsburgh: Frequently Asked Questions –

Allegheny County, Property Assessments: Informal Review online form –

Allegheny County, Property Assessments: Formal Appeal form

City of Pittsburgh 311 Non-Emergency Response line: 311 or 412-255-2621

Allegheny County Office of Property Assessment Public Information Line: 412-350-4600

Emergency Services Reminds Residents about Holiday Fire Safety

Allegheny County Emergency Services, in conjunction with the United States Fire Administration, reminds residents to take extra precautions during the holiday season. Fires during the holiday season claim the lives of more 400 people, injure 1,650 more, and cause more than $990 million in damage. According to the United States Fire Administration, there are simple life-saving steps to take to ensure a safe and happy holiday. By following these tips, individuals can greatly reduce their chances of becoming a holiday fire casualty.

Preventing Christmas Tree Fires
— Needles on fresh trees should be green and hard to pull back from the branches, and the needle should not break if the tree has been freshly cut. The trunk should be sticky to the touch. Old trees can be identified by bouncing the tree trunk on the ground. If many needles fall off, the tree has been cut too long, has probably dried out, and is a fire hazard.

— Do not place your tree close to a heat source, including a fireplace, space heater or heating vent. The heat will dry out the tree, causing it to be more easily ignited by heat, flame or sparks. Be careful not to drop or flick cigarette ashes near a tree. Do not put your live tree up too early or leave it up for longer than two weeks. Keep the tree stand filled with water at all times.

— Never put tree branches or needles in a fireplace or wood-burning stove. When the tree becomes dry, discard it promptly. The best way to dispose of your tree is by taking it to a recycling center or having it hauled away by a community pick-up service.

— If you are using a metallic or artificial tree, make sure it is flame retardant.

Holiday Lights & Decorations

— Inspect holiday lights each year for frayed wires, bare spots, gaps in the insulation, broken or cracked sockets, and excessive kinking or wear before putting them up. Use only lighting listed by an approved testing laboratory.

— Do not overload electrical outlets.

— Do not link more than three light strands, unless the directions indicate it is safe. Connect strings of lights to an extension cord before plugging the cord into the outlet. Make sure to periodically check the wires – they should not be warm to the touch.

— Do not leave holiday lights on unattended

— All decorations should be nonflammable or flame-retardant and placed away from fireplaces heat vents.

Candle Care

— Avoid using lit candles. If you do use them, make sure they are in stable holders and place them where they cannot be easily knocked down. Never leave the house with candles burning.

— Never put lit candles on a tree.

— Do not go near a Christmas tree with an open flame, such as candles, lighters or matches.

— Soak hot ashes in water and place them in a metal container outside your home.

Protecting the Outside of Your Home

— Stack firewood outdoors at least 30 feet away from your home.

— Keep the roof clear of leaves, pine needles and other debris.

— Cover the chimney with a mesh screen spark arrester.

— Remove branches hanging above the chimney, flues or vents.

Protecting the Inside of Your Home

— Install smoke alarms on every level of your home and inside and outside of sleeping areas. Test them monthly and change the batteries at least once a year. Consider installing the new long life smoke alarms.

— Provide proper venting systems for all heating equipment.

— Extend all vent pipes at least three feet above the roof.


(photo of a staged room from a fire safety demonstration, from this site)

Allegheny County gift drive to benefit vulnerable kids runs through Dec 5

Allegheny County’s 2011 Department of Human Services Holiday Project, now underway, collects gifts for children and youth who receive services through the Department of Human Services Office of Children, Youth & Families. The gift drive will run through Monday, December 5.

For information about sponsoring specific children through a gift drive or making monetary donations, contact the DHS Event & Donations Team at 412-350-3428 or

DHS has also partnered with businesses across the county to set up conveniently located drop-off sites for individuals who want to donate a gift. The Holiday Project is always in need of new, unwrapped multicultural toys and books for children of all ages. For a list of drop-off site locations, gift ideas, collection days and times, or information on how to make a monetary donation, click here.

First public meeting for the Allegheny Riverfront Green Boulevard, November 17, 6-8 p.m.

The Allegheny Riverfront Green Boulevard is a planning effort to transform a six mile stretch of the industrial rail line just northeast of downtown Pittsburgh into a multi-use rail corridor creating local links between homes, work, and recreation.  The plan envisions special, urban districts where mixed use housing and work space form new types of communities.

The first public meeting will launch the Green Boulevard study to the public on November 17, 2011 from 6:00 pm–8:00 pm.  At this meeting, presenters will review updates on the outcomes of the vision plan and introduce new ideas for each of the major study areas of the Green Boulevard plan: open space, land use/housing, and transportation.  Mariia Zimmerman, Deputy Director for the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities, will help launch this effort and welcome citizens to the process.

The project builds on the community’s Vision Plan completed in 2010 by residents, stakeholders and the City of Pittsburgh, the Urban Redevelopment Authority, and Riverlife. The Green Boulevard study will develop this vision in further detail, focusing on open space and ecology, transportation, and land use and urban design for the Lawrenceville area. The plan will study the existing Allegheny Railroad right-of-way, exploring options for transformation to a multi-modal green corridor which could integrate bicycle and pedestrian trails, passenger rail service, and stormwater management technologies, all within the existing rail freight corridor.  (click here for the full PDF of the project e-bulletin)

The meeting will be held at the Society for Contemporary Craft, 2100 Smallman Street, in the Strip District.  For more information, connect at the project’s Facebook page or contact Lena Andrews at the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh, 412.255.6439, or email

Absentee Ballot Application Deadline is November 1 for Upcoming Election

The Allegheny County Elections Division today announced that County residents who need an absentee ballot for the upcoming Municipal Election on November 8 must apply before 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday, November 1.

Absentee ballots are available to registered voters who will be absent from their municipality on November 8 or to those who cannot reach the polls due to an illness or physical disability.

Absentee ballot applications may be requested through the mail or in person at the Allegheny County Elections Division, 601 County Office Building, 542 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15219. Eligible voters may also obtain an application by calling 412-350-4520 or by visiting the VotesPA website.

Registered voters are encouraged to request their absentee ballot applications as soon as possible. Applications must be completed and returned to the Elections Division no later than 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday, November 1. An absentee ballot will then be mailed to the applicant.

The voted absentee ballot must be returned to the Elections Division no later than 5:00 p.m. on Friday, November 4.  For fastest results, visit the Elections Division and complete an application in person. If you are properly registered, you will be handed an absentee ballot to vote on the spot, which only takes a few minutes.

Allegheny Green & Innovation Festival AND Hay Day Saturday, Sept 24, at Hartwood Acres

The annual Allegheny Green & Innovation Festival and Hay Day will be held together from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Saturday, September 24, at the Hartwood Acres Park Amphitheater. Both events are free and open to the public. Parking for the events is also free and available at the amphitheater’s Middle Road lots. A downloadable map of Hartwood Acres Park is available online at

The festival, which celebrates Allegheny County’s evolution to a green economy, will feature nearly 90 organizations with green-living demonstrations and innovative technology displays, as well as sustainable food and craft vendors. The festival will be a zero-waste event and feature a special children’s area and free giveaways, while supplies last.

The festival will feature 58 exhibitors with green-living demonstrations, educational displays and innovative technology. ZeroFossil, an Allegheny County-based start-up company dedicated to the development of power generation systems that use sun, wind, water and human power, will provide solar and human energy to power all festival exhibitors.

The “I Made It! Market” will feature the following 19 vendors selling craft items made exclusively from recycled and sustainable products.

Graduate students at Chatham University’s Food Studies program developed a Sustainable Food Challenge for the Green & Innovation Festival to help better educate festival goers about the abundance of local, sustainable foods in Southwestern Pennsylvania.  Several local vendors who procure their food from local and sustainable sources will participate.

In the festival children’s area, you’ll find:

·         Carnegie Science Center’s “Science on the Road” – liquid nitrogen ice cream demonstrations (11:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m.) and liquid nitrogen flower demonstrations (2:00-5:00 p.m.)

·         The Class Clown – juggling and other entertainment

·         Hear Me Project – media and technology that allows kids to tell their stories and free giveaways, such as stickers, folders and bookmarks

·         Reuse-a-palooza – making art with recycled items

Several collection and donation drives will also take place during the day, including:

·         Global Links – collecting new or gently used medical items, including crutches, canes, non-motorized wheelchairs, shower chairs, nebulizers, and collapsible walkers, as well as unused, unexpired and unopened medical supplies, such as bandages, gauze, gloves and diapers

·         Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank – collecting non-perishable food items

·         Green Grandma – collecting hard-to-recycle plastic tops

·         Grejda Electric – collecting burnt-out compact fluorescent light bulbs

·         Pittsburgh Tote Bag Project – collecting reusable tote bags to be used by the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank to distribute food


Health Department Cautions Residents on Bats Found in the Home

No, this is not a Batman joke.  The Allegheny County Health Department put out a warning prompted by recent incidents in which people or pets were potentially exposed to rabid bats.  The ACHD is urging residents to report all bats found in the home because of the risk of rabies.

It’s especially important to report bats found in areas where people sleep, even when you’re not sure whether you’ve been bitten and exposed to their saliva, because bat bites can be so tiny they may leave no marks visible to the naked eye and so painless they may not even be felt by someone while sleeping.

Bat encounters should be reported to the Health Department immediately by calling 412-687-ACHD. Health officials will evaluate the risk and test the bat to determine if it’s rabid and anyone should be treated with anti-rabies vaccine.

If there is a bat in your home that will not fly out an open door or window on its own, please call Animal Care and Control and they will remove it for you. Animal Control can be reached at 412-255-2036 from 7am to 3pm and by calling 911 outside of those hours. If you do choose to try to catch the bat yourself, wear a pair of heavy-duty rubber gloves and place a container such as a large bowl or empty coffee can over it, slide a piece of cardboard underneath to trap the bat inside, cover the container with a lid or cap, and then submit the bat to the Health Department for testing.

In two separate incidents recently involving rabid bats, a woman and a cat were potentially exposed but not infected. As a precaution, the woman was treated with anti-rabies vaccine and the cat given a booster shot and quarantined for three months.

Here is some information about bats in Pennsylvania.  The above photo is of a little brown bat roosting in the eaves of a house, from the Wildlife North America website.  The little brown bat is one of the most common types to be found in Pennsylvania.