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Allegheny County millage rate could drop nearly 17 percent to offset reassessments

| Friday, Nov. 16, 2012, 3:06 p.m.

Allegheny County officials on Friday proposed rolling back the property tax millage rate by nearly 17 percent to offset an expected rise in property values.

The tax rate would drop from 5.69 mills to 4.73 mills. If a homeowner's property value remained the same through this year's reassessments, county taxes would go down if County Council approves the change.

A person whose home is assessed at $100,000 would pay $473 under the lower millage rate, instead of $569. A home assessed at $200,000 would be taxed $946, rather than $1,138.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald estimates that overall assessed values will increase from about $59.1 billion to about $71.2 billion, or 20 percent after appeals. Under state law, taxing bodies cannot reap more than 5 percent more as a result of reassessments and must adjust tax rates.

The county budgeted $331.8 million from property tax collections for 2013, after appeals.

Several lawyers who specialize in property assessments said the county should wait for a few weeks longer, until it completes more appeals, before deciding tax rates. Final assessment figures are due by Dec. 17 under court order.

“A lot of commercial appeals are still outstanding,” said lawyer Robert Peirce. “I have a client who bought a property for $2 million, and the assessment went up to $56 million. You know that's going to come down.”

Fitzgerald acknowledged unfinished appeals pose a problem but said the county charter requires passing a budget 25 days before the end of the year.

“A lot of the big (properties) are not done and will not be heard until next year. We have to make our best-guess estimates,” said Fitzgerald, who opposed the reassessment. “The revenue neutral is only in the aggregate, not for individual homeowners.”

County Council spent the past three days in budget hearings.

Fitzgerald proposed a $799.4 million budget. Councilman Bill Robinson, D-Hill District, proposed a competing budget on Thursday of $799.9 million.

Republicans on the 15-member council did not agree to co-sponsor Fitzgerald's millage plan, as the 11 Democrats did, saying they want time to examine the proposal.

“I really have to see the methodology. I think it's in the range it needs to be. Obviously, we want to lower it to the lowest level we can,” said Vince Gastgeb, R-Bethel Park. “It's kind of where I thought it would be.”

Bobby Kerlik is a staff writerfor Trib Total Media. He can be reached at bkerlik@tribweb.com.

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