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APPEAL JAMES G. CALLAS AND JEAN M. CALLAS v. ARMSTRONG COUNTY BOARD ASSESSMENT (12/07/82)

COMMONWEALTH COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA


decided: December 7, 1982.

IN RE: APPEAL OF JAMES G. CALLAS AND JEAN M. CALLAS, HIS WIFE AND ANTHONY J. CARINO AND DOLORES CARINO, HIS WIFE, APPELLANTS
v.
ARMSTRONG COUNTY BOARD OF ASSESSMENT, APPELLEE

Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Armstrong County in the case of In Re: Appeal of James G. Callas and Jean M. Callas, his wife, and Anthony J. Carino and Dolores Carino, his wife, from the Order of the Armstrong County Board of Assessment, No. 1980-1687.

COUNSEL

James G. Callas, Callas and Graff, for appellants.

Edward J. Steiner, Steiner and Steiner, for appellee.

President Judge Crumlish, Jr. and Judges Williams, Jr. and Doyle, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by President Judge Crumlish, Jr.

Author: Crumlish, Jr.

[ 70 Pa. Commw. Page 273]

The Armstrong County Common Pleas Court dismissed an appeal by several taxpayers*fn1 from a 1981 real property tax assessment increase by the Armstrong County Board of Assessment Appeals (Board). We affirm.

[ 70 Pa. Commw. Page 274]

When the taxpayers acquired the subject property, the land was appraised at $300.00 per front-foot, although a previously completed countywide reassessment (1956 Reassessment) established the front-foot valuation for land in that area of $500.00. Prior to the 1981 assessment, the lot's net front-foot valuation, based on $300.00 per front-foot, amounted to $333.06, which resulted in a land appraisal figure of approximately $18,484.00*fn2 and an approximate assessment of $7,393.00.*fn3 In 1974 and 1975, the property appraisals were increased to $78,500.00 and $93,504.00, respectively (yielding respective assessments of $31,400.00 and $37,401.00*fn4) to reflect the gradual completion of a new two-story block office building. In 1980, the Board directed the chief assessor to recheck all property assessments in the county. The chief assessor discovered that the property's land assessment was incorrect

[ 70 Pa. Commw. Page 275]

    under the 1956 Reassessment requirements. To correct this error, the land appraisal was adjusted to reflect a per front-foot value of $500.00,*fn5 resulting in an assessment increase of approximately $4,930.00 for the 1981 tax year. The taxpayers contest this increase.

We must resolve two issues: first, whether the Board engaged in selective reassessment in violation of both the uniformity requirement of the Pennsylvania Constitution*fn6 and the equal protection mandates of the Federal Constitution; and second, whether the Board had the authority to recheck property assessments and to correct any erroneous assessments. We are mindful of our limited scope of review in these cases: the findings of the court below must be given great force and will not be disturbed unless clear error appears. Appeal of Chartiers Valley School District,

[ 70 Pa. Commw. Page 27667]

Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 121, 447 A.2d 317, 320 (1982).

The taxpayers first argue that the $500.00 per front-foot valuation was incorporated into the 1974 and 1975 assessments which, in effect, raised the land appraisal in accordance with the 1956 Reassessment. The taxpayers allege that, consequently, the Board could not adjust the 1981 property assessment unless and until all the properties in the county had been reassessed. We disagree. The evidence demonstrates, as the trial court concluded, that the 1974 and 1975 assessments reflected an increase in the valuation of the improvements on the land rather than of the land itself.*fn7 Thus, the 1981 assessment did not constitute a reassessment, let alone a selective reassessment, but simply represented a correction of a land valuation error.*fn8 We now examine whether the Board had the authority to correct an assessment error.

The taxpayers argue that, since there is no provision in the Fourth to Eighth Class County Assessment Law*fn9 (Assessment Law) expressly permitting for the

[ 70 Pa. Commw. Page 277]

    correction of assessment errors, any assessment change should be nullified. We recognize that the Assessment Law is not a flawless piece of legislation, and we note its failure to cover certain specific matters. The intent of the Assessment Law, however, is unmistakable: to achieve uniformity of assessments throughout each fourth to eighth class county based on the actual value of the properties assessed. Here, the original assessments had not been based on actual value as required by Section 602(a) of the Assessment Law.*fn10 The Board directed the chief assessor to recheck valuations throughout the county. As a result of this investigation, the chief assessor corrected the valuation error by applying the $500 per front-foot schedule established in the 1956 Assessment. If the taxing authority were not permitted to correct clerical or mathematical assessment errors, uniformity would not be maintained and such non-uniform assessments would be illegal as violative of both our Constitution*fn11 and the Assessment Law. Such a result is absurd and would result in some taxpayers bearing an excessive tax burden. Accordingly, we conclude that the Board has the power (and, indeed, the duty) to correct erroneous and improper assessments to achieve the mandated uniformity.

Affirmed.

Order

The Armstrong County Common Pleas Court order, No. 1980-1687 (Civil Action -- Law) dated February 24, 1981, is hereby affirmed.

Disposition

Affirmed.


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