Appeal, No. 21, Jan. T., 1954, from order of Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh County, June T., 1952, No. 217, in case of Samuel W. Traylor, Jr. et al. v. City of Allentown. Order affirmed. Appeal by property owners from real estate tax assessment. Before DIEFENDERFER, J. Order entered reducing assessed valuation. Property owners appealed.
Orrin E. Boyle, for appellants.
Joseph B. Walker, City Solicitor, for appellee.
Before Stern, C.j., Stearne, Jones, Bell, Chidsey, Musmanno and Arnold, JJ.
OPINION BY MR. JUSTICE JONES
The personal representatives of Samuel W. Traylor, deceased, appealed to the court below from the final order of the Board of Revision of Taxes and Appeals for the City of Allentown which had approved the city assessor's triennial assessment of the decedent's hotel and apartment property for taxation purposes in the sum of $548,370. After a hearing on the appeal, the court found the city's assessment to be excessive and inequitable and reduced it to $405,603 for a net reduction of $142,767. Evidently still dissatisfied, the deceased property owner's representatives have appealed to this court, contending that, in the evidentiary situation obtaining as a result of the hearing, the court below was bound to accept as conclusive the testimony of appellants' expert witnesses as to the value of the property from which an assessment of $343,527 was determinable. Assessments in Allentown were uniformly at 60% of a property's actual value.
Section 2504 of The Third Class City Law of 1931, P.L. 932, as amended (53 PS § 12198-2504), which relates to assessments and revisions, provides that "The assessor shall make, or cause to be made,... a full, just, equal, and impartial assessment of all property.... In all cases he shall value, or cause to be valued, the property at such sums as the same would, in his judgment, bring at a fair public sale thereof." In arriving at such value the price for which any property would separately bona fide sell, or the price at which any property may bona fide actually have been sold, shall be considered, but shall not be controlling. Instead such selling price, estimated or actual, shall be subject to revision by increase or decrease to accomplish equalization with other similar property within the taxing district. The term "actual value" as used in this statute has been uniformly held to mean market
value: see Rohrbach Tax Assessment Case, 156 Pa. Superior Ct. 283, 284-285, 40 A.2d 142.
On an appeal from an assessment, the assessor's valuation for taxation purposes, approved by the Board of Revision, makes out a prima facie case in support of the validity of the assessment: Metropolitan Edison Co.'s Appeal, 307 Pa. 401, 404, 161 A. 303; DuBois's Appeal, 293 Pa. 186, 189-190, 142 A. 134; Lehigh & Wilkes-Barre Coal Company's Assessment, 225 Pa. 272, 276, 74 A. 65. In the instant case, however, it conclusively appeared from the testimony of the assessor that he had arbitrarily accepted as the actual value of the property a figure furnished him by a professional appraiser of an appraisal company working under contract with the city. The court found that the appraisal company's representative, in estimating the actual value of the property, and the city assessor, in basing his uniform 60% assessment upon such valuation, had completely ignored the established definition of "actual value" (see, e.g., Appeal of Pennsylvania Co. for Insurances etc., 282 Pa. 69, 74, 127 A. 441) and obviously gave "no consideration to any of the factors of evaluating real estate usually taken into consideration by our Courts in determining fair market value, except the single factor of 'cost of reconstruction, less depreciation'". The assessment actually reflected a value for the property of almost three times the amount which the assessor, several years before in a proceeding in the Orphans' Court of the county, had testified was the fair market value of the property. The court understandably rejected the assessment as excessive.
The court then undertook to determine from the evidence the proper assessment by taking "into consideration all of the factors necessary to form a just and equitable assessment having due regard to the ...