Reassessment delaying boroughs from setting tax rates
By Patrick Cloonan
Published: Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013, 3:46 a.m.
Many Mon-Yough residents are waiting to find out their municipality's real estate tax rate for 2013.
Forward Township supervisors approved a budget last month, but it wasn't until Monday that they voted to hold the line on taxes at 2.95 mills.
The wait is because Allegheny County could not certify reassessment figures on time.
That prompted county Common Pleas Senior Judge R. Stanton Wettick Jr. to issue an order on Dec. 10 extending the deadline for municipalities to set their budgets to Jan. 31.
Wettick allowed municipalities to set millage up to 10 days before mailing tax bills.
West Homestead solicitor Stanley Lederman cited that order as his borough chose to wait until the new year.
Homestead council didn't wait, adopting a $3.94 million budget on Dec. 13, with millage remaining at 13.
Elizabeth Township commissioners adopted a $4.47 million budget that holds the tax rate at 3.929 mills with a 0.5-mill fire tax. Commissioner Don Similo asked if the board would consider lowering the rate when county figures are in. Township solicitor Pat McGrail noted the appeals to assessed property values and said it was difficult to tell how the budget might be adjusted.
On Dec. 10, Versailles passed a $859,625 budget with no increase in an 8-mill tax rate, but borough attorney Krisha Mackulin said Versailles would be required to rework its rate after the final county numbers are available.
Glassport councilors elected to wait until Jan. 15 to consider a budget with just under $2 million in expenditures.
Duquesne slated a first reading of its 2013 tax rate for a special meeting on Jan. 16 at 1 p.m. in council chambers.
Munhall council meets on Jan. 16 to vote on holding the line on taxes at 10.75 mills.
Wall council will vote Jan. 16 on a 7.22-mill tax rate, down from 8 mills in 2012.
Pleasant Hills councilors elected to consider a budget at a workshop on Monday and a meeting on Jan. 21 at 7 p.m.
Whitaker passed a $718,560 budget on Dec. 13 but will wait to see if it will lower taxes from a 2012 rate of 9.58 mills.
On Dec. 17, White Oak passed an $11.3 million budget but did not pass a tax ordinance. It too is waiting to act with the county figures in hand.
On Dec. 18, West Mifflin council adopted a $13.8 million budget, up $400,000 from 2012, but also chose to wait regarding the tax rate. Solicitor Phil DiLucente said the borough has successfully defended a substantial number of property appeals, estimating the win rate at about 98 percent. Council set its caucus meeting for Wednesday and voting meeting for Jan. 15, both at 6 p.m.
On Dec. 20, North Versailles Township commissioners approved a budget but not tax rates, waiting for exact figures from the county. The new rate won't be a hike from the 2012 rate of 8 mills.
“We're projecting that our assessments are going to increase,” board vice president and finance committee chairman Frank Bivins said. Commissioners meet again on Jan. 17.
Wilmerding held the line on taxes at 8 mills but is watching for assessment figures for Wabtec Corp., its largest employer. Council president Steve Shurgot predicted the company will appeal a reported $10.476 million reassessment.
Munhall had a problem in the other direction as U.S. Steel Research & Technology Center found it had a new value of $5.9 million, down from $14 million. The borough already was appealing an earlier revaluation from $19 million.
Some municipalities are satisfied with their budgets and rates. McKeesport held the tax line at 4.26 mills for buildings and 16.5 mills on land.
South Versailles Township held the line at 4.2 mills in a $99,809 budget, about $5,000 larger than in 2012.
In South Allegheny communities, Port Vue held taxes at 7.86 mills for a third straight year in a $1.228 million budget $100,000 larger than 2012. Liberty held taxes at 4 mills for general purposes and 1 mill for the fire department, and Lincoln reduced taxes from 8.55 to 7.5 mills.
Clairton believes it could hold the line on taxes, in part because of the sale of its sewer lines to Clairton Municipal Authority. Manager Howard Bednar said the city received a lump sum payment of $1.3 million this year and is expecting to receive $407,000 each year for the next 24 from a $10 million bond issue.
Dravosburg held the line at 7.315 mills in a $822,803 budget that is nearly identical to 2012's.
Others are acting cautiously, needing to limit any increase in revenue to a 5 percent “windfall” that state law allows in the year after a reassessment. That caution prompted Allegheny County Council to approve a budget that lowered county real estate taxes from 5.69 to 4.73 mills, a fraction over the 2011 rate of 4.69 mills.
East McKeesport will keep taxes, at most, at 8.1 mills, the same rate as in 2012. At council's Dec. 14 meeting, borough tax collector Robert Ferrainolo expected changes.
“Every time the result of an appeal comes in, I go to the spreadsheet,” he said, adding there were “too many variables” to pin down a specific rate.
Jefferson Hills council voted on Dec. 10 to approve $12.146 million in spending, but passed two tax rates to go with it. Taxes will be lowered at least to 4.642 mills — 3.97 mills for general purposes, 0.45 mills for fire service and 0.1 mills for ambulance services. That's down from 5.63 in 2012, including 5.08 for general purposes.
To cover a possible 5-percent limit, council also authorized an additional 0.224-mill rate for general purposes, which would raise the final rate for general purposes to 4.194 mills.
Either way, borough finance director Andrew McCreery said, the tax rate could be reopened. Council has a workshop on Wednesday, then meets on Monday at 7 p.m.
Elizabeth councilors met early on New Year's Eve to adopt a budget holding the line on taxes for an eighth consecutive year at 8 mills. Council president Monica Douglas Glowinski said the borough used the previous year's figures to determine revenue.
“It's a very conservative budget, erring on the side of caution,” she said. “Looking at the reassessments as they came in, the majority of them came in higher. We're anticipating that they're all going to be appealed, anyway.”
Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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