Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge R. Stanton Wettick issued an order on Friday reminding the city of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Public School District that it must use 2012 property values when sending out 2012 tax bills. The order was issued less than a day after Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald sent out assessment notices with the 2002 base year numbers and ordered municipalities to use those older numbers when setting millage rates and sending out tax bills.
Fitzgerald says that he is complying with state law requiring taxing bodies to set rates by January 15. Property values outside of the city of Pittsburgh and Mt. Oliver are still being assessed. When notices containing new assessment values were sent to city residents last month it prompted hundreds of informal appeals.
The judge's order reads in part, "…it is ORDERED that unless and until this court modifies its prior orders of court, the City of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh School District are barred from setting millage and calculating taxes for 2012 unless the millage and taxes are based on the 2012 assessed values…"
Wettick will consider next week a request by the city school district to delay the use of the new assessment numbers until 2013. "If the assessment isn't delayed, by law the Pittsburgh School District is required to reduce its millage to offset the increased 2012 assessment values," reads the order. "According to the Pittsburgh School District, the appeals process may result in significant reductions in property values. As a result of these reductions, the Pittsburgh School District will not retain sufficient revenues to satisfy the costs and expenses provided for in its budget."
"It is time to stop the reassessment madness," said Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl reacting in a written statement to the judge's order. "This chaotic reassessment process has caused panic among homeowners, small business owners and all taxpayers, creating a widespread fear that people, especially seniors and those who can least afford it, will be taxed out of their homes."
The statement goes on to read, "I am further disturbed that the process to date has unfairly targeted Pittsburgh home and business owners who have been given an extremely short, and now disrupted, window of time to appeal inaccurate reassessments. …The court's order today, on the heels of yesterday's announcements from Allegheny County, further spreads panic and uncertainty."
Ravenstahl agreed with Fitzgerald that by forcing Allegheny County reassess it is being unfairly singled out among the rest of the counties in the state. "[I]t is clear, for the sake of our residents, our businesses, local governments and our region, that this reassessment mess must come to an end," said Ravenstahl.