Studio Raw Rises from the Glitter and Ashes

July 12, 2012 | Posted by Ken Eisner | 1 Comment

Approximately two years ago, LaRaine Burda, her son Dan Burda, and his life partner Rohn Neugebauer came to see me to establish a new business.  They were starting a hair salon called Studio Raw and needed some guidance on forming the business.  They shared that this hair salon would be unlike any other in Pittsburgh.  Before I knew it, the usual thirty-minute initial consultation turned into ninety minutes.  The time flew by learning about their passion and vision for the salon.

Their vision soon became a reality.  They opened on Babcock Boulevard in Ross Township.  When it opened, the studio was beautiful, with open areas, a large white grand piano, huge video screen and an open bar and kitchen.  Yes, that’s right, an open bar.  More importantly, the banter among the stylists and the customers was playful, whimsical and sometimes scandalous.  So fun!

StudioRawTeam

 

Over time, Studio Raw was no longer just a hair salon; it turned into a community.  Studio Raw hosts and sponsors many charity events, raising much needed funds for such worthy causes as Cystic Fibrosis, Make-A-Wish, American Cancer Society, and Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Walk. In the past 3 years, Studio Raw has raised over $50,000! A business with a heart.

Because of the welcoming and fun atmosphere and the commitment to hire only the highest quality stylists, the business grew.  They expanded the salon space to over 3000sq ft and added 14 plus staff members.

The video screen which initially was showing somewhat outdated Michael Jackson videos soon had its own separate room (near the popcorn maker), where hysterical videos are produced by Dan Burda and the Raw Hogs, typically emceed by Dan and Erin, a phenomenal hairstylist (so good that even my wife and daughters trust her) are on the screen.  These videos are taken at such events as Gay Pride Week, auditions for American Idol, and Furries’ Week.  You get the point.

LaRaine, by the way, is a fascinating individual.  She is insightful, honest, and brilliant.  She generously and willfully shares her 40 plus years of experience with the staff.

There was every reason to believe that Studio Raw would continue to flourish when it held the fabulous Glitter Party, hosted by owner Rohn Neugebauer of the 2012 Pittsburgh’s 50 Finest, to raise money for Cystic Fibrosis on May 12. The event raised over $14,000!  Six days later, on May 18, Studio Raw went up in smoke.  Literally.

There was an electrical fire destroying the building.  As the flames were appearing, Studio Raw employees had the composure to remove its computer system, a few chairs and styling tools.  This was all happening on the same day as North Hills High School’s prom – a big day for the salon.  Rather than grieve while their salon was burning, they immediately set chairs up under trees and continued to take care of their clients.

LaRaine, who was about to go on a weekend vacation with friends, was called.  It was at this point that LaRaine became one of my heroes.  In order to get past the barriers, LaRaine literally ran to the site of the fire.  Owners LaRaine, Dan, and Rohn assembled their team and proclaimed to them that this would not defeat them; it would make them stronger.  With no plan in mind, they brazenly promised the staff that they would reopen somewhere, somehow by the following Tuesday.  They lied.  Rohn, being a real estate agent with Howard Hanna Hampton Office,  immediately located a former hair salon site, also on Babcock Boulevard, and opened for business the following MONDAY.  While the quarters are tight, the staff of Studio Raw and the Studio Raw community has become even tighter.

The goal is to reopen at the former site by the end of January.  There is no doubt that with the track record of Studio Raw, this new salon will be bigger, better, and more beautiful than ever.  Here is a recent video announcement about the new space.

At one time, Studio Raw was a secret gem.  It is no longer a secret.

STUDIO RAW ROCKS!

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You’ve probably heard by now that Republican former state legislator Jane Orie was recently sentenced to a

Former Sen. Jane Orie, R-Allegheny County

The Patriot-News, 2011

prison term of between 2 ½ and 10 years on corruption charges.  The sentence stems from allegations she used her staff to run fundraisers and conduct campaign work.

Here’s what I don’t get.  Why are we okay with our politicians campaigning essentially from their first day in office but we have so much trouble with their staff doing the same?  From day one, our politicians vote virtually always along party lines in order to ensure that they get re-elected.  Typically, during the second half of their term, if not sooner, they are actively campaigning for re-election or for another political office.  Why are we so okay with this?  Explain to me how this is any different than if my assistant Lynn came into my office next Monday and advised me that she was going to spend the next two years openly looking for another job, but expecting me to continue to pay her.

Bottom line is that while I am not okay with my tax dollars paying the office secretary to make copies for her employer’s political campaign, I am far more offended by the politicians themselves spending their entire time campaigning for a job at our expense.

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Appealing Your Tax Assessment: What You Need To Know

June 11, 2012 | Posted by Ken Eisner | No Comments

 

3 bedroom 2 bath houseUnless you have been hiding under a rock for the past few years [apologies to those of you who enjoy hiding under your rock — hopefully, your rock hasn’t gone up in value], you are well aware of the controversial reassessment of all of the properties in Allegheny County and that the values established will be effective for fiscal year 2013.  The goal of the Allegheny County Board of Property Assessment Appeals and Review is to determine the fair market value of your property.  Fair market value is what a ready, willing, and able buyer is willing to pay for real estate of a ready, willing, and able seller.

 

If you purchased your property recently, it is presumed that you paid fair market value.  However, if part of the purchase price included a significant amount of personal property (in other words, your stuff like appliances, light fixtures, window treatments, lawn mowers, etc.), you may be able to contend that the purchase price should be reduced because personal property is not to be included in the valuation.  If you didn’t purchase your property recently, then the best gauge of fair market value is from recent sales of comparable properties, preferably not before 2008.

 

The best form of evidence to establish fair market value from comparable sales is through an appraisal by a qualified and reputable appraiser.  In many of the appeals that we are handling on behalf of my clients, we have used appraisals.  If it was an informal appeal which gives our clients two bites at the apple (informal and formal appeal), we have often utilized software to which we subscribe that also provides recent sales of comparable properties.  While this software does not permit us to visit each home and therefore is not as precise as an appraisal, it has nonetheless resulted in being credible evidence upon which the Board is considering to make its decisions.  We continue to utilize this software for formal appeals with great success.

 

As important as considering what to introduce as evidence is what not to introduce.  More often than not, people make the mistake of utilizing comparable properties’ assessments, not purchase prices.  The Board isn’t interested in comparable assessments, only sales.  In other words, this is a losing argument.

 

If you have filed an appeal and would like my assistance, please do not hesitate to call me.  I handle these cases on a contingency basis, which means that we only get a fee if we save you taxes.


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Pennsylvania Supreme Court Gets It Right

May 17, 2012 | Posted by Ken Eisner | No Comments

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in a 53 page opinion, recently ruled that Allegheny County’s property tax reassessment system is unconstitutional. While the opinion is not as riveting as a John Grisham legal thriller, it is a very well reasoned, logical, and most importantly, correct decision.

Specifically, the Justices found that the County’s use of a 2002 base year assessment system violated the Uniformity Clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution because it is unfair to property owners with decreasing or stagnant fair market values. To illustrate this point, the Court reviewed post-2002 property value trends in various municipalities in the Woodland Hills School District. While property values in Braddock have decreased by more than 15%, property values in Edgewood have increased by 35.87%. Under the 2002 base year system, a property owner in Braddock would have to appeal his assessment in order to be treated equitably. It is a fundamental premise of constitutional law that a person should not be required to resort to judicial action to obtain equal treatment under the law.

Although the lower Court held that the equality in real estate taxation required by the Pennsylvania Constitution could be obtained only through annual reassessments, the final decision of the Supreme Court does not go so far. Recognizing the cost and impracticality of annual assessments, which, according to Allegheny County, cost $25 million for the 2002 reassessment, the Supreme Court held the Constitutional requirement of uniformity in taxation does not require scientific exactness.

As the Court states, “It seems obvious that the use of a ase year system with its attendant economies, stability, and predictability would not implicate the Uniformity Clause, if for example, a county conducted adequate periodic reassessments, or if it could be shown that property values in a particular county remained relatively unchanged, or those values had virtually the same rate of change. It may well be true that a base year system, if unadjusted, will inevitably lead to taxing inequity. But those inequities, in a particular county, may take years to rise to the level of constitutional infirmity.”

Rather than attempting to determine a specific assessment system, the Court remanded the matter to the trial court to determine a process for Allegheny County to execute a countywide reassessment and to establish a realistic time frame for its completion.

Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato is urging the legislature to place a temporary hold on the reassessment, allowing Allegheny County to continue to use the 2002 reassessment as a base year while the legislature develops a statewide uniform assessment policy. Onorato has also threatened to file a federal lawsuit claiming that the Court’s decision violates the Constitutional mandate of equal protection because the decision requires Allegheny County to conduct a reassessment, but does not require other Pennsylvania counties to do the same, despite the fact some counties have not undergone a reassessment in decades. This threat may be a maneuver to encourage the legislature to act quickly.

We’ll keep you posted in later editions as the plot thickens.

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You Can Bank on Your Doctor’s Competence

December 17, 2009 | Posted by Ken Eisner | No Comments

In this day and age, patients are encouraged to be knowledgeable and therefore ask questions of their healthcare providers about their conditions.  While this line of questioning by patients is considered normal, it is probably not appropriate to ask your physician about his or her competence and more specifically, how many times he or she has been sued for medical malpractice and what were the results.  There is frankly limited opportunity for patients to know about the competence of their physicians other than what they have heard from other patients.

There are, however, protections to ensure that your physician and other healthcare practitioners are competent.

For example, each physician when he or she applies to a medical staff of a hospital in order to practice there is required to provide significant information about his experience.  The hospital reviews these credentials and the hospital administrators, along with the medical staff, make a determination as to the competence of the physician to practice at that facility.  One problem was that confirming this information for its accuracy was previously extremely difficult.  That is, until the creation of the National Practitioners Data Bank (“NPDB”).

The NPDB is an electronic data bank that consists of all payments that are made on behalf of physicians in connection with medical malpractice cases, as well as adverse peer review actions against licenses, clinical privileges, and professional society memberships of physicians and other healthcare practitioners.  The NPDB was established by Congress as part of the Health Care Quality Improvement Act of 1986, which became law when signed by then President Ronald Reagan in 1986.  The Health Care Quality Improvement Act was enacted because Congress believed that the increasing number of medical malpractice cases and the need to improve the quality of healthcare had become national problems that required more effort than any individual state could provide.  At the time, the medical community was relying upon professional peer review to restrict the ability of incompetent practitioners from moving from state to state without disclosing prior performance.  The heightened concern with improving the quality of healthcare led to the establishment of the NPDB on October 17, 1989.

The information available in the NPDB includes:

  1. medical malpractice payments made on behalf of a physician, dentist, or other healthcare practitioner;
  2. adverse action reports based on a healthcare practitioner’s competence or conduct that adversely affects the practitioner’s medical staff privileges for more than 30 days;
  3. disciplinary actions related to competence or professional misconduct against a healthcare practitioner, including revocation, reprimand, probation, suspension and surrender of license;
  4. professional society review actions taken for reasons related to competence or professional misconduct that adversely affect membership in the professional society; and
  5. Medicare and Medicaid exclusion reports containing sanctions due to fraud and abuse.

The information in the NPDB is not available to the general public. This information is available to:

  1. healthcare entities under certain circumstances relating to medical staff privileges, employment and other affiliation relationships;
  2. practitioners requesting information about themselves; and
  3. boards of medical examiners or other state licensing boards.There remains limited information available to the general public as to the quality of healthcare practitioners.

There are a few web sites that provide limited information for a price.  See for example, healthgrades.com, which provides the specialties of a healthcare practitioner and certain instances of professional misconduct.  This information is, however, minimal.  You may also attempt to contact the State Medical Board to see if any licensure action has been imposed on your healthcare practitioner.  However, malpractice and criminal information is typically withheld from state medical boards.

The bottom line is that with the advent of the NPDB and the various other professional peer review protections that exist, you can feel pretty comfortable that your physician is competent and no further background check is necessary.  Simply relax and take a deep breath.

In this day and age, patients are encouraged to be knowledgeable and therefore ask questions of their healthcare providers about their conditions.  While this line of questioning by patients is considered normal, it is probably not appropriate to ask your physician about his or her competence and more specifically, how many times he or she has been sued for medical malpractice and what were the results.  There is frankly limited opportunity for patients to know about the competence of their physicians other than what they have heard from other patients.
There are, however, protections to ensure that your physician and other healthcare practitioners are competent.
For example, each physician when he or she applies to a medical staff of a hospital in order to practice there is required to provide significant information about his experience.  The hospital reviews these credentials and the hospital administrators, along with the medical staff, make a determination as to the competence of the physician to practice at that facility.  One problem was that confirming this information for its accuracy was previously extremely difficult.  That is, until the creation of the National Practitioners Data Bank (“NPDB”).
The NPDB is an electronic data bank that consists of all payments that are made on behalf of physicians in connection with medical malpractice cases, as well as adverse peer review actions against licenses, clinical privileges, and professional society memberships of physicians and other healthcare practitioners.  The NPDB was established by Congress as part of the Health Care Quality Improvement Act of 1986, which became law when signed by then President Ronald Reagan in 1986.  The Health Care Quality Improvement Act was enacted because Congress believed that the increasing number of medical malpractice cases and the need to improve the quality of healthcare had become national problems that required more effort than any individual state could provide.  At the time, the medical community was relying upon professional peer review to restrict the ability of incompetent practitioners from moving from state to state without disclosing prior performance.  The heightened concern with improving the quality of healthcare led to the establishment of the NPDB on October 17,
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