LAWRENCE COUNTY Firm hired in data dispute

County officials contend their consultant isn't being given information on the property tax reassessment.
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- Lawrence County commissioners hired a Pittsburgh law firm to help sort out their problems with the company working on countywide tax reassessment.
Commissioners Ed Fosnaught and Roger DeCarbo agreed to hire Kamin and Associates on the recommendation of a county consultant. Commissioner Brian Burick voted against hiring Kamin, saying he had no details about Kamin's work for the county or how much the company will be paid.
After Tuesday's meeting, Fosnaught said commissioners still have to negotiate a contract with Kamin and do not know how much the firm will be paid. Any money spent on legal fees will likely come out of the county general fund, he said.
Kamin will work specifically on county reassessment, Fosnaught said. He noted that county solicitor John Hodge can't devote his full attention to the matter because of other county business.
Reassessment: Countywide reassessment began in 2000 after New Castle officials threatened to sue the county over what they contended were unfair real-estate assessments.
Manatron Sabre Systems of Miamisburg, Ohio, collected data on all real estate and assigned new values to the property. That information was delivered to county commissioners Jan. 18.
Residents are expected to receive preliminary values on their property in mid-February. They will have about two months of informal appeals; then, official values will be set by county officials.
Commissioners say they want to make sure the values are correct before residents get the preliminary values.
Values: Fosnaught said during a cursory search of the numbers he found problems, including one property on Ellwood Road that shows an increase in value from $28,000 to $32 million. He noted that another one-acre property in Shenango Township showed a value in excess of $300 million.
Errors such as those have likely skewed the average value increases countywide, he said. Currently the numbers show that building values have increased by 600 percent and land values by nearly 5,000 percent, Fosnaught said.
Fosnaught said that's why it's important for the county consultant, Real Estate Tax Consultants of Pittsburgh, to get information from Sabre Systems to do an analysis of the numbers.
"RETC has told me that Sabre continually avoids giving them information they need," he said.
Company response: Daniel Muthard, Manatron Sabre president, however, said his company turned all of its data over to RETC and the county, but a computer glitch on RETC's end is keeping them from accessing it.
"I understand RETC has been having problems reading the CDs that we sent them, and as recently as late [Monday] afternoon we have been attempting to contact their [computer] systems person, who happens to be in Chicago," Muthard said.
Muthard said the data were sent in a standard computer language.
"We are trying to provide them with the information they want as best we can. I am not spending hours upon hours of computer programmers' time reformatting computer data files," he said.

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