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Allegheny County judge OKs Monroeville property tax increase

| Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, 3:54 p.m.

An Allegheny County Common Pleas judge has approved a tax-rate hike for Monroeville that exceeds a state anti-windfall provision intended to protect taxpayers after property reassessments.

The increased millage — which Monroeville Council is to vote on March 7 — would generate about $1.4 million more than the 5-percent maximum increase in tax revenue that state law allows. Judge Judith L. A. Friedman ruled Feb. 20 that the municipality could exceed the cap set by state law by setting the real estate tax rate at 2.431 mills, which is 0.547 mills higher than the 5-percent limit would permit.

The cap is intended to prevent governments from reaping a windfall in tax revenue when the overall assessed property value increases. In that situation, the state regulation would have officials lower the tax rate so the total amount of money collected for real estate taxes remains fairly steady.

Last year, Monroeville's tax rate was 2.2 mills. If officials opted for only the state-allowed 5-percent increase, the tax rate would have been set to 1.884 mills this year.

However, Monroeville officials asked for court approval to raise taxes beyond that limit. Municipal solicitor Bruce Dice said elected officials were faced with two options: either increase millage or reduce municipal services.

If council votes to adopt the rate that the judge approved, the owner of a property assessed at $100,000 will pay $243 in municipal property taxes this year, compared to last year's $220 at the previous millage.

Although overall property value in all but two municipalities in Allegheny County increased during last year's reassessments, Monroeville was one of few — if not the only — municipalities to request a tax revenue increase that exceeded the 5-percent increase, said Eric Montarti, a policy analyst with the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy, a nonprofit group.

Even with the 0.547 millage increase this year, Monroeville still offers one of the lowest millage rates in the county.

Out of about 130 municipalities, Monroeville and O'Hara Township were tied with the third-lowest millage rate in 2012, according to the Allegheny County Treasurer's office.

Monroeville hasn't increased millage in 21 years but has continued to offer services that some municipalities have turned over to the county, such as a senior center and dispatch center.

Councilman Steve Duncan said the public works department budget was reduced over the last 10 years.

He said every department head was asked to reduce spending in recent years, including 2013, which is making it harder to provide the same level of service to residents.

“The majority of the residents that have contacted me were not in favor of a reduction of services if at all possible,” Duncan said.

Councilman Bernhard Erb has argued that turning some services — such as the dispatch center — over to the county would afford residents the same, if not better, service at a reduced cost.

Council voted in January to maintain all services and to request the increased millage. In February they voted to reduce the rainy day fund from 10 percent of the $27 million budget to 7.5 percent.

Some residents who spoke out against a millage increase in January told council they preferred more spending cuts within municipal departments.

“It seems like they (council) just want to stay with the status quo, and keep overspending and let the taxpayer pay for it,” said Les Neilly, a Monroeville resident and vice chairman of the Monroeville Republican Committee. “Whether it's a municipal business, or private business, you have to treat it like a business. Everything needs to balance.”

Kyle Lawson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8755, or klawson@tribweb.com.

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