BEDFORD - With its July 1 deadline approaching and more information reaching officials daily, Bedford County's long reassessment struggle is nearing a moment of truth.
In three weeks, county authorities will mail property owners revised values - values that could either placate taxpayers or stir up the kind of chaos that in 2009 led to thousands of appeals and a court-ordered property revaluation.
"Basically they threw out all the values and started from scratch," County Commissioner Steven Howsare said of Tyler Technologies, the contractor that gathered data for both the 2009 reassessment and the current one.
Contractors combined information from the 2009 reassessment with sale information over the last three years, establishing what county officials hope will be a more peaceful adjustment than its predecessor.
The last reassessment - the county's first since 1957 - amounted to a $2 million overhaul, with property information converted from outdated paper cards to a digital database now available online.
It became a tug-of-war involving county officials, school board members and taxpayers. So many complaints were received that the commissioners slashed assessments across the board, provoking a lawsuit from Bedford Area School District and ending with a decision to restart the process this year.
Tyler Technologies' Cole Layer Trumble, or CLT, division placed the only bid for this year's reassessment, receiving the $90,000 job in January after two new commissioners took office.
Howsare, who had opposed the arbitrary adjustments that contractors have since abandoned, said this summer's mailings will likely be less of a shock than the 50-year, 500-percent value shifts that stirred up anger in 2009.
"It's pretty straightforward - it's nowhere near the project that we went through last time," said Paul Flynn, regional manager for Tyler Technologies' CLT division.
Tyler employees have been working quietly since January, Howsare said, and in recent weeks information has begun arriving at the county assessor's office for review.
When revised values are mailed in July, Tyler Technologies' job will be all but finished, Flynn said.
At a commissioners meeting Tuesday, longtime Bedford tax activist Terry Chalfant noted that Allegheny County's ongoing reassessment - which, like Bedford's, employed Tyler Technologies - has recently been mired in appeals and legal problems.
Allegheny County officials are withholding some $600,000 in payment until an audit of Tyler's work is completed, said Brad Korinski, chief legal counsel for County Controller Chelsea Wagner.
"It's a problem with the outcomes, the methodology ... the diligence with which the assessments were performed," Korinski said. A review of Tyler's data has revealed that poor Allegheny County communities would be subject to greater proportional tax increases than their wealthier neighbors.
That, and other complaints with Tyler's findings, have led to more than 100,000 appeals there.
An Allegheny County judge has requested that a panel of experts be used to help to determine a solution - the worst-case scenario, Korinski said, could be yet another reassessment at taxpayers' expense.
Howsare dismissed the suggestion that Bedford County could end up in similar fashion, arguing that simple politics are behind the confusion in Allegheny County.
"I'm not going to say [Bedford's] was perfect. There's no such thing as a perfect reassessment," Howsare said. "But it's the same thing that was going on up here [in 2009]."
Flynn, from Tyler Technologies, agreed.
"Allegheny County is more complicated," he said, noting that a judge compelled officials there to conduct the current reassessment. "They're not doing this project of their own volition - they're reacting like a lot of people do when they're forced to do something."
With commissioners on the same page and some of 2009's confusion resolved, Flynn said, Bedford County could be in for a more peaceful summer.
"People are more knowledgeable," he said. "I think it'll be different from last time."
Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.