Judge Skerda withdraws Hampton Inn tax appeal

Photo from hamptoninn3.hilton.com/en/hotels/pennsylvania/hampton-inn-and-suites-warren-WARPAHX/index.html The Hampton Inn in North Warren was the subject of civil argument on Wednesday. President Judge Maureen Skerda granted a motion by the owner’s attorney to withdraw an appeal of the hotel’s property tax assessment.

President Judge Maureen Skerda has permitted the withdraw of an appeal regarding the property tax assessment of the Hampton Inn in North Warren.

An ongoing appeal between the owner, McGraw J LLC, and the county’s Board of Assessment Appeals was back in court on Wednesday during civil argument proceedings.

Michael Musone, representing the county’s taxing bodies, first addressed a motion he filed to enforce a previously-agreed to settlement agreement.

He said that the parties were in court approximately one year ago to announce that they had arrived at a settlement agreement. In the weeks after, he said he reached out to owner John McGraw’s prior counsel to finalize the agreement but never received a response.

Musone told the court that McGraw “essentially fired his former counsel (and) wants to relitigate the case” via his appeal.

“Once you go down the road of tax appeal,” he said, it “could later turn out the property is under assessed.”

That’s “what the taxing bodies believe happened here,” he added, noting that a prior tax appeal case on another parcel specified that this appeal would not be withdrawn.

“There was an agreement not to withdraw,” Musone said, arguing that the taxing bodies – the county, school district and, in this case, Conewango Township – have incurred fees to try the case.

“Everyone is out that money,” he said, “taxpayer money that won’t be back.”

Skerda noted that language from that prior court hearing indicated at the agreement was “tentative.”

Musone said it was only tentative because the taxing bodies needed to formally approve it in a public meeting.

“Everybody has approved this,” he said, telling the court he shook McGraw’s hand after the last proceeding. Skerda countered by asking if there was anything in writing between him and McGraw and Musone said there was not.

Musone concluded by noting that a tax appeal seeks to resolve two issues – past due taxes and the rate going forward – and noted those issues have both been solved.

McGraw’s attorney, Michael Kaminski, argued that the agreement was tentative and that there were terms of the agreement discussed after that last hearing.

“It’s just not a contract,” he said, noting that the taxing bodies could have sought changes to the agreement before approving it. “It should not be enforced.”

Kaminski also had a motion to withdraw the appeal heard by Skerda on Wednesday.

The Warren County Commissioners said in a statement that McGraw’s appeal included an appraisal which concluded that the property should be valued at approximately $4.2 million.

Online assessment records indicate that the current market value of the Hampton for taxing purposes is $1,415,880 with an assessed value of $707,940.

Kaminski said he “will never contest that. We would very much like to withdraw the appeal.”

Skerda then ordered that it was “clear” that the “agreement was tentative” and denied that motion.

She then granted the motion to withdraw the appeal.

The “current assessment remains in full force and effect.”

The taxing bodies have opportunity to appeal the decision to Commonwealth Court.

Commissioner Ben Kafferlin said in the wake of Wednesday’s decision that “the commissioners have not met to discuss that.”