By Andy Sheehan

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — All of a sudden Lawrenceville is the place to be with its hipster bars and shops and it’s cutting-edge restaurants.

As an enticement to buy a townhouse in Doughboy Square, the city offered pediatrician, Dr. Sandra Kim, an abatement to significantly lower her real estate taxes.

“They made it clear that one of the beauties of buying in this neighborhood, with this property in particular, was the tax abatement,” she said.

lawrenceville townhouses KDKA Investigates: City Property Tax Policy   One Hand Giveth, The Other Taketh Away

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

But one hand giveth, and the other taketh away. No sooner did she move in, Kim got hit with what some call – the newcomer’s tax. The school district appealed the assessment on her home, petitioning to nearly double the value for tax purposes.

“I was completely flabbergasted,” she said.

Kim’s townhouse is identical to the two on her right and the two on her left, but while each of those is assessed at $325,000, the school district is seeking to raise her assessment to $560,000.

As a result, her tax bill will be about twice the size of her neighbors, and she will be paying more in taxes than if she never had an abatement in the first place.

KDKA’s Andy Sheehan: “It doesn’t sound very hospitable to buy a new house and have to pay a higher assessment than everyone around them.”

Attorney Janet Burkardt: “The law isn’t about being hospitable.”

Burkardt, the school district’s attorney, says because real estate values are rising in Lawrenceville, Kim paid more than her neighbors who bought earlier, and the school district has a right to capture that increase in its tax levies.

“It’s been proven through the courts that these assessment appeals, filed by the school districts, when they’re done without discrimination, are total valid,” Burkardt said.

She’s right. A county judge just tossed a case by other newcomer property buyers who complained of unequal taxation.

Kim’s only recourse is to hire consultants, like Mike Suley, to fight the new value at the assessment appeals board where he will argue for basic fairness, and against a surprise reassessment on top of a tax abatement.

“It’s like buying a car, you get a $5,000 rebate, and then you by the car and they take the rebate back,” said Suley. “It’s that simple. Is that fair? No.”