Property Assessments

Noah Brode / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh remains on a fairly solid financial footing, according to a new report from the city controller's office, adding about $16 million to its coffers in 2015.

But Controller Michael Lamb said obligatory spending -- such as pensions, employee benefits and long-term debt -- still accounts for almost half of the city's yearly budget.

“It’s hard to make ends meet and do the things you need to do as a city when 46 percent of your budget is taken right out on those three items,” Lamb said.

Jon Dawson / Flickr

Washington County landowners will begin to receive property reassessment notices Tuesday.

The newly assessed property values, which will take effect next year, are the county’s first since 1981.

When the new assessed values take effect in 2017, some landowners will start to pay more than what they’ve been contributing in taxes. Others will start paying less.

Daveynin / Flickr

City Councilman Dan Gilman wants to change the way Pittsburgh does property assessment appeals, to ensure property owners are taxed fairly -- even at the expense of the city.  

He said the city will target homeowners with an appeal letter within just a month or two of closing on their home, and said the city wins 90 percent of the appeals attempting to increase property taxes. Gilman said, that’s because the city has the expertise, but a homeowner in most cases needs to hire an attorney.

Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner announced that her office will fully examine the property assessment appeals process. A previous audit has already looked at the actual property assessment processes.

“And now, since most of the appeals are wrapped up, we’ll be looking at the appeals process,” said Wagner. “We’ll be analyzing at lots of data, but with this, we also want the involvement of the public.”

What her office is looking for are the personal experiences of those who went through the appeals process.

Last year, the Allegheny County Board of Property Assessment Appeals and Reviews ruled on more than 10,000 appeals from property owners, municipalities, and school districts that thought certain homes and businesses were paying too much or not enough in property taxes.

The number of appeals declined from 2013, when many property owners and taxing bodies challenged the 2013 county-wide property reassessment values, according to Eric Montarti, senior policy analyst for the conservative Allegheny Institute for Public Policy.

Somerset County Commissioners have rejected a request from the Shade-Central City School District that could have forced the county to launch a multi-million dollar property reassessment process.

As counties, municipalities and school districts prepare to send tax bills, Allegheny County is reporting a drop in taxable real estate values. Due to assessment appeals, the overall value of land and buildings in the county dropped by 4.8 percent.

There is now a total of a little more than $75 billion in taxable property in the county, versus more than $79 billion last year. But, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said that’s not unusual following a reassessment.

Fall property tax collections for the city of Pittsburgh are $3.7 million below projections, according to the second-quarter report published this week by the mayor's finance office.

The millage rate may now need to be raised in order to correct the shortfall, though budget officials say it's too soon to say whether that will be necessary.

In an effort to ensure steady and predictable revenue from property taxes, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald is planning to establish the 2012 property reassessment as a base-year for coming tax years.

He said the recent re-assessment was very costly for county residents.

Taking Advantage of the Homestead Tax Exemption

May 29, 2013
Mark Knobil / Flickr

In Allegheny County Homestead tax exemption is a tax break that deducts $85 from every homeowner's property tax bill. It's a useful bit of financial relief for many area homeowners. But residents in Pittsburgh's poorer neighborhoods, where the deduction could be most useful, are not taking advantage of the exemption. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Andrew McGill has reviewed the situation and says, "Amid all the hubbub over re-assessments, I was surprised more people weren't aware of it, and how this lack of awareness is split along income lines."

The Allegheny County Council voted on Tuesday night to nix a few controversial changes that a county governing board had made to the property assessment appeals process.

The Board of Property Assessment and Review (BPAR) had changed its regulations in mid-March to allow only attorneys to represent property owners appealing reassessments, rather than certified appraisers, realtors and other professionals.

Real estate professionals came out in force Tuesday to denounce the BPAR revisions.

A bill that would be the first step in standardizing property reassessments in Pennsylvania passed with unanimous support in both chambers and now awaits Gov. Tom Corbett’s signature.

“This is a step that really modernizes the way data is collected — the way contracts are given out, the way the state interacts with counties when the county decides that it is time to reassess,” said Rep. Brandon Neuman (D-North Strabane)

Allegheny County

Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner is calling on the Pennsylvania legislature to allow local governments to decide if a landowner deserves to be given property tax breaks as a nonprofit entity.

Under the Pennsylvania Constitution, “purely public charities” are exempt from the payment of property taxes to local municipalities.  An April 2012 decision of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court enabled local taxing entities to more aggressively challenge tax-exempt status.