decided: December 29, 1983.
ANTHONY J. CARINO AND DOLORES CARINO, HIS WIFE ET AL., APPELLANTS
THE BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS OF THE COUNTY OF ARMSTRONG ET AL., APPELLEES
Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Armstrong County in the case of Anthony J. Carino and Dolores Carino, his wife; James G. Callas and Jean M. Callas, his wife; W. R. Davis, R. G. Nolte, and George B. Stubbs and Ruth S. Stubbs, his wife v. The Board of Commissioners of the County of Armstrong and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and Harry M. Fox, William H. Kerr and Grover H. Myers, constituting the members of said Board, No. 1981 -- 0442-Civil.
James G. Callas, Callas and Graff, for appellants.
Edward J. Steiner, Steiner and Steiner, for appellees.
President Judge Crumlish, Jr. and Judges Craig, MacPhail, Doyle and Barry. Opinion by Judge MacPhail. Dissenting Opinion by Judge Barry.
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Appellants*fn1 have brought this appeal from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Armstrong County which dismissed a mandamus action filed by Appellants who sought to compel the County Board of Assessment Appeals*fn2 (Board) to conduct a county-wide reassessment of real property. We affirm.
Appellants, who are taxpayers and property owners in Armstrong County, filed the instant mandamus action*fn3 on March 13, 1981, alleging therein that the Board has failed to conduct a county-wide revision of
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real property assessments since 1956. Specifically, Appellants contend that the Board is required to complete a county-wide revised assessment on an annual basis pursuant to The Fourth to Eighth Class County Assessment Law (Law).*fn4 The Board argues, and the common pleas court found, that the Law does not impose a mandatory duty on the Board to conduct such annual county-wide reassessments.
Our scope of review is limited to a determination of whether the common pleas court abused its discretion or committed an error of law when it denied mandamus relief. Rizzo v. Schmanek, 63 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 547, 439 A.2d 1296 (1981). Mandamus, of course, is an extraordinary writ "which lies to compel the performance of a ministerial act or mandatory duty where there is a clear legal right in the plaintiff, a corresponding duty in the defendant, and a want of any other adequate remedy". Wyoming Sand and Stone Co. v. Department of Revenue, 24 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 366, 369, 355 A.2d 860, 862 (1976), aff'd, 477 Pa. 488, 384 A.2d 1193 (1978). One who sues in mandamus must demonstrate an immediate and complete legal right to the demanded action. Moreover, mandamus should never be invoked in a doubtful case. Board of Supervisors of North Coventry Township v. Silver Fox Corp., 10 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 646, 312 A.2d 833 (1973). Finally, mandamus will not lie to compel the performance of discretionary acts except where the failure to exercise discretion is arbitrary, fraudulent or based on an erroneous view of the Law. South Whitehall Township v. Department of Transportation, 11 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 558, 316 A.2d 104 (1974).
Appellants admit that they can find no case law which would compel the Board to perform the precise
[ 79 Pa. Commw. Page 245]
duty at issue here, to wit, annual, county-wide, parcel-by-parcel assessments. Our independent research affirms that conclusion. Neither are Appellants able to point to any statutory law which categorically states that the Board must perform such annual county-wide, parcel-by-parcel assessments.
The issue presented by this appeal then is primarily one of statutory construction. Appellants argue that the Law requires annual county-wide reassessments, while the Board contends that only revised or updated assessment rolls need be made on an annual basis and that county-wide reassessments are discretionary. Based on our interpretation of the Law, we conclude that county-wide, parcel-by-parcel assessment revisions need not be conducted on an annual basis.
The object of statutory interpretation, of course, is to ascertain and effectuate the legislative intent and to give effect, if possible, to all of the provisions of a statute. Section 1921(a) of the Statutory Construction Act of 1972, 1 Pa. C.S. § 1921(a). We think a reading of the Law as a whole demonstrates county-wide revisions of the assessment need not be conducted on an annual basis.
Our analysis begins with Section 602(a) of the Law, 72 P.S. § 5453.602(a) which provides for the initial valuation and assessment of real property on a parcel-by-parcel basis. Section 601.1, 72 P.S. § 5453.602a, provides for periodic changes in the valuation of individual parcels under the following circumstances: 1) when improvements are made to or removed from a property; 2) when land is divided and conveyed in smaller parcels or 3) when the economy depreciates or appreciates to such an extent that real estate values, in general, are affected. If, as here, a "base year" valuation system is used, changes are expressed in terms of such "base year" values. A "base year" is
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defined as "the year upon which real property market values are based for the most recent county-wide revision of assessment of real property. . . ." Section 102 of the Law, 72 P.S. § 5453.102 (emphasis added).*fn5 Such value corrections may be made to an individual parcel of land for a particular year without requiring that all properties in the county be reassessed that year. Callas v. Armstrong County Board of Assessment, 70 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 272, 453 A.2d 25 (1982).
Next, Section 602(b) of the Law, provides that in the first year following the initial county assessment or county-wide assessment revision, each political subdivision "shall, for that first year, reduce its tax rate, if necessary, for the purpose of having the total amount of taxes levied for that year equal . . . not more than one hundred and five per centum of the total amount it levied on such properties the preceding year, notwithstanding the increased valuations of such properties under the new assessment system." (Emphasis added.) We consider it clear that if such adjustments are required to be instituted in the first year following a county-wide revision, the county-wide revision must be intended to apply for longer than a one year period. We believe such revisions were not contemplated by the legislature as an annual event.
We also observe that different notice and appeal provisions are applicable depending on whether a "normal" assessment year is involved, as opposed to a year in which a parcel-by-parcel revision of assessments has been accomplished. In years when county-wide revisions are not made, the Board need only send notices, under Section 701(a) of the Law, 72 P.S. § 5453.701(a), to property owners whose actual property value has been changed from the preceding assessment
[ 79 Pa. Commw. Page 247]
roll, whose property value had not been separately fixed in the preceding assessment roll or when the predetermined assessment ratio has been changed. In any year in which a county-wide revision of assessments is proposed, however, " All property owners shall be notified . . . of the value of the new assessment and the value of their old assessment." Section 701(c) of the Law, 72 P.S. § 5453.701(c) (emphasis added). Moreover, appeals during "normal" assessment years may be filed within forty days of notification of a change in the assessment while only a thirty day appeal period is permitted in years involving county-wide revisions. See Section 701 of the Law. We think these differences in notification and appeals procedures further demonstrate that a county-wide revision was not contemplated by the legislature as an annual requirement.
The Law does require, however, that an annual assessment roll be prepared, on or before the first day of July, by the chief assessor. Section 601 of the Law, 72 P.S. § 5453.601. This requirement does not, as Appellants argue, mean that each parcel of land in the county must be revalued and reassessed annually. The assessment roll, instead, represents a current, updated roster of properties subject to local taxation together with their actual values.
The Law, on the other hand, as we have noted, does not specify a time period within which parcel-by-parcel, county-wide assessment revisions must be accomplished. Appellants support their argument that county-wide revised assessments are required annually by the provision in Section 602(b) of the Law that, "No political subdivision shall levy real estate taxes on a county-wide revised assessment until it has been completed for the entire county." We construe this provision to mean that real estate taxes may not be levied using a partially completed county-wide revision.
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We do not think the provision requires that such revisions be completed annually or even within a single tax year. Appellants also point to our Supreme Court's statement in McKinney v. Board of Commissioners of Allegheny County, 488 Pa. 86, 92, 410 A.2d 1238, 1241 (1980), that, "all counties, except Allegheny County, in effect, assess property county-wide on an annual basis". We do not view this statement to be contrary to our holding here since, as we have noted, an updated assessment roll is prepared annually on a county-wide basis, even though the valuation and assessment of each parcel need not be revised every year.
We must, accordingly, conclude that Appellants have failed to demonstrate that the Board has a mandatory duty to perform county-wide revisions within any particular time frame. It is within the Board's discretion to decide when to perform a county-wide revision. We note that Appellants have not argued that the Board has fraudulently or arbitrarily exercised or failed to exercise its discretion.*fn6
Even if a mandatory duty could be found to exist, we question whether Appellants would have a clear and immediate right to demand performance by the Board. Section 306(c) of the Law, 72 P.S. § 5453.306(c), provides that, " any municipal corporation or school district within a county is hereby authorized to mandamus the board of assessment and revision of taxes . . . to comply with the provisions of this act and its amendments. . . ." (Emphasis added.) While this provision would not necessarily preclude a right in Appellants to mandamus the Board, we also note the
[ 79 Pa. Commw. Page 249]
rule that a private litigant may institute a mandamus action to enforce a public duty only "when that plaintiff has an individual and beneficial interest in the litigation independent of that which is held by the public at large". Dombrowski v. Philadelphia, 431 Pa. 199, 204, 245 A.2d 238, 241 (1968). Since mandamus should never be invoked in a doubtful case we cannot conclude that Appellants would have an immediate and clear right to demand Board action in the instant case.
The order of the Court of Common Pleas of Armstrong County, dated December 17, 1981, is hereby affirmed.
Dissenting Opinion by Judge Barry:
I construe McKinney, cited in the majority opinion, to mean that there must be an annual assessment of real estate in every county except Allegheny County and that this requirement extends to each parcel of land. The majority reaches a different conclusion. McKinney apparently decides the central question posed but left undecided in Borough of Greentree v. Board of Property Assessment, Appeals and Review, 459 Pa. 268, 328 A.2d 819 (1974) and upholds the constitutionality of a triennial assessment system in Allegheny County. In Armstrong County, however, there has not been an assessment of the entire county since 1956. There can be no uniformity of assessment under these circumstances. If there was doubt about reassessing every three years in Allegheny County, there can be no doubt that a lapse of twenty-seven years in assessing a county is improper. I sympathize with the Board of Commissioners who would be re-required to spend a substantial sum to accomplish the reassessment and still not be assured that admitted
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inequities will be corrected. I must conclude, however, that Article VIII, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution imposes a duty on the Board to accomplish a reassessment. The trial court not only refused to grant a preemptory judgment but refused to hold an evidentiary hearing to determine a fair and just result, believing this would be improper under the Rules of Civil Procedure and the County Assessment Law. I would remand to hold an evidentiary hearing so that the record would more fully indicate the complete status of the assessment picture in Armstrong County.