Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner is calling for a review of all tax-exempt properties, and a strengthening of requirements to be eligible for that status. Wagner says county government is losing nearly $95 million in revenue each year to property tax exemptions, and says that hurts county residents.
"It's very clear that we're all dealing with the problems of increased costs, decreased revenue, so all of our programs in government are really taking a hit and really affecting quality of life, whether we're talking about the port authority, cuts to human services, or cuts to education, the list goes on and on," said Wagner.
Wagner does acknowledge that some exemptions are fair, such as those for churches and soup kitchens, but she said there are other businesses that use a big non-profit umbrella to cloak smaller ventures that are for-profit.
Wagner is calling on the Office of Property Assessments and other county departments to, among other things, require every organization seeking exemption to show annually that it meets the requirements of state law; conduct a parcel-by-parcel review to identify exemptions that could be challenged; and work with municipalities and school districts to challenge exemptions that don't meet state requirements.
Wagner said if you consider individual property owners and big business, the changes make sense, "it's very very fair to ask the question or to expect that for-profit venture to pay taxes on the portion on their venture for which they're making a profit. Every individual in Allegheny County is held to that standard and we should expect businesses to be held to that standard as well.
Wagner's staff will present the case to the Pittsburgh City Council Tuesday.