EDITOR’S NOTE: The controversy over the assessment process in Allegheny County has been full of charts and graphics and percentages. However, there is a very human side to this issue, the taxpayer who faces an uncertain financial future due to an unexpected and unexplained rise in their property tax. Ken Steidl and Kenny Steinberg would like you to meet one of the tax payers caught in the assessment quandary, Frank Pascoe of Trafford, an 80-year-old Korean War veteran and Purple Heart recipient who will fight, again, for a principle.
By Tom Rose
He served our country in the Korean War as a sniper, and came home to Trafford to a hero’s welcome. In the process of his service, he was wounded twice in his hand, back, and legs and received a Purple Heart.
Nearly sixty years later, Frank Pascoe is shooting back again. This time the weapons and the targets are very different, but he is still fighting for a cause. Allegheny County is saying a house he has lived in since the late 1940s, and hasn’t made any improvements on since 1960, is now worth more than double what it was in 2002.
“I was wounded twice and I am on 100 percent disability now,” Pascoe said. “What’s ironic is that I could have filled out papers with the (Veterans Administration) to let them handle my property tax. But I have always figured if I could afford it, I’ll pay it. I figured I would let someone else who couldn’t afford it get a break. But when they pull stuff like this out of the clear blue sky, I’m not going to take it.”
Pascoe, who will be 81 on February 28, received a notice from the Allegheny County Assessment Board that his home, valued at $41,200.00 in 2002, was now being assessed at $90,200.00. According to Allegheny County Assessment Board figures, the value of single-family homes in Trafford has risen 127 percent. Commercial property in Trafford has risen 249 percent.
“I understand that there will be mistakes made when properties haven’t been reassessed in a decade,” Attorney Kenny Steinberg of Steidl and Steinberg said, “but Allegheny County’s officials had 10 years to get this right. How much more time could they possibly need? Anyone with even rudimentary knowledge of Allegheny County knows that property values didn’t go up by 75 percent in Rankin, 34 percent in Braddock or 146 percent in Trafford.”
The Allegheny County assessment is based on comparable properties purchased in the last few years. According to the county records, Monroeville was used as the basis for comparison with all of the residential properties in the Allegheny County portion of Trafford.
There is a serious flaw with this measuring stick. According to the U.S. Census, the median household income in Monroeville is $57,254.00; almost 2 ½ times higher than the median household income for residents in the Allegheny County portion of Trafford.
Then there is the matter of a fair market comparison. One of the county’s comparable properties to the Pascoe residence, located on Haymaker Road in Monroeville, sold for $189,000.00. Another property, located at 265 My Way in Monroeville, was sold in 2009 for $115,000.00.
The property at 265 My Way has an enclosed porch frame, a full basement, a masonry stoop and a wood deck . . . and it sells potato chips, soda pop and lottery tickets.
It’s an A-Plus Mini-Mart.
Pascoe let out a loud chuckle when told that one of the properties his house is compared to is a Monroeville convenience store.
“This is such a crock,” Pascoe said.
The 54 residential and commercial properties in Trafford are in a tax bureau’s no-man’s land. The borough of Trafford is located in Allegheny and Westmoreland counties and, while Pascoe is responsible for Allegheny County property taxes, he pays school taxes to Penn-Trafford, which is located in Westmoreland County. This is also an area with limited access for its residents.
“If there were a train wreck with hazardous materials blocking the road, we couldn’t get out,” Pascoe said. “We tried to get funding for another access road, but instead the borough gave the priority to a skateboard park. What do you think having just one road and no escape route do to our property value?”
Pascoe, with representation from Steidl and Steinberg, will pursue a formal appeal with the Allegheny County Assessment Board. He wants the story of Trafford’s plight known. He continues to push for Trafford to be unified within Westmoreland County, and he will fight for a true assessment of his property.
“It’s a one hundred-year-old house,” Pascoe said. “If the county thinks my house is worth ninety thousand, I’ll sell it to them right now. Somehow, I don’t think they will.
“All I want is to be treated fair. I’ve always paid my taxes and I always will. I just want it to be fair.”