A group of municipal solicitors met with Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Judge R. Stanton Wettick on Monday to talk about tax bills. The county will not have every property assessed for several more weeks, and municipalities are becoming concerned that they will not be able to pass budgets, send out tax bills, and receive revenues fast enough to pay their bills.
During a conversation with the judge, it was suggested that the municipalities be allowed to send out two tax bills in 2012. "One based on a percentage of last year's [2011's] assessment, and the second bill to make up the difference when the actual certified values become available," said Harlen Stone, who represents several Allegheny County municipalities.
The judge seemed to settle on allowing the first bill to be equal to half of the tax owed based on the 2011 assessment. That would allow municipalities to begin to see positive cash flows early in the year. A second bill would then be sent out several months later, asking for the balance due based on the 2012 assessments and any millage changes.
The second payment would be larger or smaller depending on how a homeowner's assessment moves compared to others in the municipality.
Lawyers for the municipalities represented at the meeting like the idea of two bills, because it allows their clients to pay bills on time. However, the municipalities will face higher costs associated with sending out a second set of bills.
Some argued that the second bills might be ignored by loan holders paying tax bills on behalf of homeowners, but Judge Wettick said that was an issue to take up with the lenders.
A group of lawyers, including Harlen Stone, will present the judge with a draft court order next week to make the split bills possible. The draft will also include language allowing municipalities to delay setting millage rates until after the final assessment numbers are available. Many municipalities live under ordinances that force councils to pass budgets under tight deadlines and send out tax bills on specific dates.