CAN A SCHOOL DISTRICT CHOOSE TO ONLY APPEAL THE ASSESSMENTS ON COMMERICAL PROPERTIES?

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard arguments this morning on whether the law which permits school districts to appeal assessments allows school districts to appeal only higher value commercial properties.

The Upper Merion School District argued that there is no violation of the Uniformity Clause where the School District evaluates the properties within its district and pursues appeals where it makes economic sense to do so. Property owners argued that this practice unfairly targets only commercial properties, to the exclusion of underassessed residential properties, in violation of the Uniformity Clause.  The Uniformity Clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution  provides that all taxes shall be uniform, and has been interpreted to require equal treatment of commercial and residential properties.

While Pennsylvania law provides authority for school districts to file assessment appeals, this case presents the question of whether school districts can selectively target commercial properties to the exclusion of residential properties.

The Supreme Court justices engaged in dialogue with counsel for both sides asking, among other things,

–        doesn’t the law give the school district the authority to cherry pick what properties it appeals?

–        isn’t treating classes of property differently a violation of the Uniformity Clause?

–        isn’t it bothersome that the property owners argument would protect their right to an inaccurate assessment?

A decision in favor of the property owners in this matter may have a far reaching impact on the school districts’ current practice of filing appeals on commercial properties, particularly those recently the subject of a sale.

No specific timeline is in place for the Supreme Court’s decision, but we will continue to monitor this matter. Please contact Jane Richardson at (610) 458-4400 with questions or for more information.