Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald is calling a judge's decision to allow school district and municipalities to use old property values "a big victory." Court of Common Pleas Judge R. Stanton Wettick reversed his earlier ruling Thursday and decided to allow the taxing bodies to send out 2012 tax bills using the 2011 values.
The Pittsburgh Public School district had argued that if it used the new 2012 values and there were a slew of successful assessment appeals, it could force the district into the red. School District Attorney Paul Lalley persuaded the judge by noting that if the overall assessed value is lowered by 5 percent through appeals, it would result in a $9.5 million hole in the district's budget. Last time the county reassessed, appeals lowered the overall value in the district by nearly 7.5 percent.
"I think he did it for the right reasons and the reasons that the district had expressed in the requests that we made which is that we want to make sure that we had a lot of process to go forward but to make sure that they're using reliable numbers when they set the tax rate," said Lalley.
Not Everyone is Happy
The order extends to all school districts and municipalities in Allegheny County. Attorney Don Driscoll, who represents homeowners in the ongoing case, disagreed with Judge Wettick's decision. He said 2012 would be the seventh year of what he calls "unconstitutional taxation."
"They are being taxed based on values as of 2002 and those values have changed greatly since 2002," Driscoll said. "Many people's values are much higher right now."
Driscoll said he blames the state legislature for passing laws that effectively force school districts to always fight to delay values in a reassessment year.
Fitzgerald: Big Sigh of Relief
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald reacted to the ruling by saying the taxpayers of Allegheny County can breath a "big sigh of relief" knowing that they will have stable assessment values for another year.
"A huge battle was won… but the war continues," said Fitzgerald. "We've got to continue to go to Harrisburg as we talked about last week. We do need uniformity across the state." Fitzgerald said he will continue to fight for a statewide assessment law, something he and his predecessor Dan Onorato have been fighting for unsuccessfully for years.
Fitzgerald has pledged his support for those making appeals. "We're going to help them with information, we're going to help them with legal options, and we're going to help people continue to fight this," said Fitzgerald. "There are a lot of tools that we have in the county with respect to the appeals process, reviews, fixes."
Fitzgerald advises any home owner who thinks their assessments may be wrong to appeal. He notes that it is free to file the appeal and you can always withdraw the appeal in the future.