The court-ordered reassessment process for Allegheny County has been fraught with confusion and anger, with vocal opponents saying their property values jumped up to 300% in some cases, while comparable neighboring properties increased modestly or not at all. Some elderly residents worry that drastically increased property values will, in essence, tax them out of their homes.
To address that, Pennsylvania Senator Wayne Fontana has introduced a bill that would enable the county council or citizens to eliminate property taxes altogether.
"We have to enable them to be able to shift to a different menu like an income tax or sales tax or some other tax that they feel appropriate. You would have to do both because obviously you have to fund schools in some way, and you have to be able to fund municipal or county services," said Fontana.
Under Senate Bill 1462, the county and each municipality and school district within the county would have the flexibility to replace the property tax with other taxing options.
In the first year, government leaders could not increase taxes beyond what property taxes would have generated. Fontana said the goal is to make sure there is a fair tax structure in Allegheny County, and called property taxes onerous and unfair, especially in light of the reassessments.
"No other county is being forced through court order to do a reassessment at the present time, and we think it's very unfair that Allegheny County would be forced to have a reassessment when counties around it and other state counties are not required to do it," said Fontana.
By limiting the legislation to one county, the senator said the proposal has a better chance of winning approval. Plus, he said, lawmakers can't tackle the issue on a statewide level.
"The governor has stated that it's a county problem, a county-by-county problem, so we're stepping up to say that Allegheny County will attempt to solve the problem ourselves, just give us the opportunity to be able to eliminate the property taxes and enable us to impose a different funding source," he said.
Fontana said if the law is passed, county council would need to enact the necessary tax shift ordinance a year in advance of it going into effect. If council does not act, the senator adds, his bill would allow citizens to propose an ordinance to eliminate property taxes through public referendum.