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Appeals cloud Mt. Lebanon taxes

| Wednesday, May 15, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The Mt. Lebanon School District's budget is expected to grow by about 1.9 percent in the next school year, but whether homeowners see a tax increase or decrease will depend on the results of the court-mandated reassessment that took effect in 2013.

The district's $83.16 million budget for the 2013-14 school year will get a final vote at the Monday board meeting, setting the new tax rate at 22.61 mills, or $2,261 for each $100,000 of a home's assessed value. That's 4.52 mills less than the current rate and 5.02 mills — 18 percent — less than the rate the district proposed to balance its budget before factoring in new property values from the reassessment.

Whether a homeowner's tax bill goes up or down depends on how much his or her assessment changed compared to the community's tax base. State law prohibits governments from leaving their tax rates the same after a countywide reassessment and reaping a “windfall” from the increase in property values.

“Our tax rate decreased by about 20 percent ... so the rule of thumb is, if your assessment went up by less than 20 percent, you'll get a tax decrease; if it went up by more than 20 percent, you'll get a tax increase,” said Jan Klein, the district's finance director.

The tax base the district is working with is only an estimate at this point, as thousands of appeals wait to be heard and adjudicated across Allegheny County.

“I'm hoping (the budget) is as accurate as I can be at this point,” Klein said. She said assessments on about $125 million worth of property in Mt. Lebanon are being appealed.

In Mt. Lebanon, the value of all taxable property rose from $2.17 billion under the old assessments to about $2.7 billion under the new ones. Klein estimated that appeals will bring that value back down slightly to about $2.6 billion, which is the number she used to calculate the new millage rate.

Any additional revenue brought in above the 1.9 percent increase will be set aside to make refunds to property owners whose assessment are lowered through appeal.

“If I'm too conservative (in the estimates), our millage rate goes too high, and that's not fair to the people in our community either,” Klein said.

Working with the old assessed values, the school board had planned for a 0.5-mill tax increase, new fees and spending cuts to balance the budget without using the district's $5 million reserves.

The fees and cuts will remain. Students will pay higher parking and activity fees; staff will be cut; and spending cuts will be enacted on school supplies, travel and consultants.

Board member Larry Lebowitz said he was glad the district wouldn't use its reserves. The teachers union has filed a grievance over back pay, he said. If the ruling goes against the district, reserves would be needed to pay any award.

Monday's board meeting will start at 7:30 p.m. in the library at Jefferson Middle School on Moffett Street.

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

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