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Leet commissioners backtrack on tax rate

| Tuesday, March 12, 2013, 4:57 p.m.

Editor's note: Following Monday night's meeting, Leet Township Commissioners have changed the meeting time for their March 18 special meeting. Commissioners had planned to meet at 10 a.m. March 18, advertised that in legal notices , but now will meet at 6:30 p.m. Monday, March 18, township Manager Annalee Oswald said Thursday. This story has been updated to reflect that change.

Tax bills with a higher-than-anticipated millage mailed last week to Leet property owners were inadvertently sent before leaders could consider lowering the tax rate, a township commissioner this week said.

“We mistakenly mailed out the bills,” commissioner Wayne Hyjek said of bills mailed with a 7-mill property tax rate.

Commissioners plan to meet at 6:30 p.m. Monday in the Leet Township municipal building for a special meeting to consider lowering the tax rate to 5.5 mills.

“So now we're backtracking,” Hyjek said.

Last week, some residents said their property 2013 tax bills increased $300 to $900 annually.

But the assessed value of property in Leet increased about 39 percent — from $92 million in 2012 to about $128 million in 2013, according to Allegheny County data — so the rate must be lower to keep bills about the same.

Under state law, officials must reduce millages so not to reap a “windfall” of extra tax money after a reassessment. Leaders in municipalities around Allegheny County have cut their tax rates for that reason.

Leet resident John Mook said he was surprised to see an increase in his bill.

“My county taxes went down,” he said.

“They missed the ball in Leet.”

Township officials did not make clear to the Sewickley Herald or to residents at a sometimes tense regular monthly meeting Monday night how many Leet residents paid their tax bills or whether residents are being turned away from paying bills.

When asked by the Herald and residents, commissioners also were not sure how much the 2013 budget was.

Taxing bodies are permitted to collect 5 percent more in revenue compared to the prior year during a reassessment year; to collect more than that requires a judge's approval.

Eric Montarti, a policy analyst with the nonprofit Downtown-based Allegheny Institute for Public Policy, said in order to not gain revenue from the assessments, Leet officials would have needed to establish a tax rate of about 4.99 mills.

“The way this process is supposed to work … they need to roll their millage rates back,” Montarti said.

In the public meeting, township Manager Anna Lee Oswald disagreed with Montarti's numbers.

“I don't think they took into consideration the 5-percent increase that we are allowed,” she said.

Commissioners President Gary Bradel said the reassessment process has been difficult for township leaders.

“If next year, we can lower [the tax rate] more, we will. We don't know for sure what's out there,” Bradel said of an unknown number of appeals still to be determined.

Township solicitor Bill Rodgers called appeals a “moving target for your budget.”

But he said with the passage of a 5.5-mill tax rate, the township will be “in compliance with the anti-windfall provisions.”

Bobby Cherry is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-324-1408 or rcherry@tribweb.com.

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