Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Monroe County in case of In Re: Assessment of Carl A. O'Merle and Mary Jane O'Merle, No. 4 Misc. C.P. 1981.
Arthur L. Zulick, Muth & Zulick, for appellants.
John B. Dunn, Matergia and Dunn, for appellee.
Judges Colins and Palladino, and Senior Judge Kalish, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Colins. Senior Judge Kalish dissents.
[ 95 Pa. Commw. Page 142]
Carl A. O'Merle and Mary Jane O'Merle (appellants) appeal an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Monroe County dismissing their statutory appeal from a 1983 reassessment of their house by the Monroe County Board of Assessments. Appellants argue first that the Board's reassessment was not authorized by the Fourth to Eighth Class County Assessment Law (Assessment Law),*fn1 and second that the selective reassessment of their home violates the uniformity requirement of the Pennsylvania Constitution.*fn2 Because appellants' first argument is correct, the constitutional issue need not be decided.
The trial court found that on June 30, 1978, appellants purchased the property in question for One Hundred Seventeen Thousand Five Hundred Dollars ($117,500.00). In 1980, while conducting a routine field check of the property, a representative of the Assessor's Office noted that there were two flues coming out of the chimney, indicating the presence of a second fireplace.*fn3 The prior assessment, which had
[ 95 Pa. Commw. Page 143]
noted only one fireplace on the property, was part of a county-wide assessment performed in 1972 which assessed appellants' home at Nine Thousand Seven Hundred Fifty Dollars ($9,750.00). Upon discovery of the second flue, the Chief Assessor of Monroe County, George Richter, sent two appraisers to the property, who, based on the property's exterior appearance, the additional fireplace, and the enclosure of porches, increased the cost and design factor from zero to 10%, increased the grade factor from B 5 to B 10, eliminated a 15% depreciation factor, and revised upwards the "ladder computation" of the property's value.*fn4 These changes raised the assessment
[ 95 Pa. Commw. Page 144]
on appellants' house forty-one percent (41%), to Thirteen Thousand Five Hundred Ninety Dollars ($13,590.00). Both sides agree that appellants' ratio of assessed valuation to market valuation was 11% prior to reassessment and 14% subsequent thereto, compared with a median ratio of 12.4% in Smithfield Township.
The proceedings in the trial court are de novo, Deitch County v. Board of Property Assessment, 417 Pa. 213, 209 A.2d 397 (1965), and the court in a tax assessment appeal is the finder of facts. Park Drive Manor Tax Assessment Case, 380 Pa. 134, 110 A.2d 392 (1955); In Re Edward G. Kriebel Tax Assessment, 79 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 466, 470 A.2d 649 (1984). Upon appeal, the findings of the trial court "must be given great force and will not be disturbed unless clear error appears." Appeal of Chartiers Valley School District, 67 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 121, 125-26, 447 A.2d 317, 320 (1982), accord, Callas v. Armstrong County Board of Assessment, 70 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 272, 275, 453 A.2d 25, 26 (1982).
In Callas, as both parties correctly note, this court held that although no explicit provision of the Fourth to Eighth Class County Assessment Law permits the correction of prior assessment errors, selective reassessment to correct errors will be presumed authorized based on both the intent of the assessment and upon the mandates of the uniformity provision of the Pennsylvania Constitution, Id. at 276-77, 453 A.2d at 27. ...