Let's do it again?
By Michael J. Suley
Published: Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Brace yourself. You may be reassessed again. Wait a minute. We've been told that the court-ordered property reassessment was over, right?
Allegheny County Council passed a bill permitting appeals for the 2013 tax year — for the second year in a row. Although the bill may favor some property owners who will get a second bite of the apple, there will be more losers than winners this time around. Why?
Taxing bodies are permitted to file appeals. In 2012, they filed appeals for the 2013 tax year on properties where the sales price was higher than the assessment. Taxing bodies can now file this year on sales that did not exist last year — for the same 2013 tax year. They'll probably win many of these appeals.
In 2012, the court-ordered reassessment values were certified. County and city officials promised to assist with the appeals process. There was a concerted effort to get the appeals for the 2013 tax year out of the way before we paid taxes on these values.
Since the 2013 tax appeals are being conducted again, there are questions being raised about Bill 7331-12. Will the City of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh school district appeal the so-called underassessments — based on sales from the last few years? Will municipal millage rates be adjusted after this second round of appeals for the 2013 tax year or will the taxing bodies just keep the additional revenues? Does the appeals board look at the market value as of 2010, 2012 or 2013?
Yes, there will be confusion if the 2013 tax year appeals are conducted for the second year in a row.
The other promise made — under state law — was that millage rates would be lowered after the 2013 tax year appeals were resolved. If county lawmakers permit another round of 2013 tax year appeals, it will result in an unintended second tax increase for thousands of city and county property owners this year.
Based on sales comparables, the reassessment values are three years old. Thousands of property owners who bought homes during this period may be reassessed on appeal for the 2013 tax year if the county passes Bill 7733-12. Many taxing bodies will appeal thousands of assessments based on sales. The problem is the tax impact will be felt this year. The result will be a second tax bill to the homeowner and additional revenue outside of the revenue-neutral provision.
There is an alternative. Every county in Pennsylvania permits appeals the year before taxes are levied. Allegheny County appeals may be filed this year for the 2014 tax year. This will result in a transparent and stable budgeting for taxpayers as well as taxing bodies. Your tax bill is not subject to change once it is paid.
Anyone who complains about his or her assessment will still have the right of appeal this year — for the 2014 tax year. That is the way it is done in 66 other counties in the commonwealth. This process is easier to understand.
Consistency, fairness and stability have been needed in our system for a long time. County lawmakers should consider the prospective appeals taxing system before the appeals begin on this cycle.
Michael J. Suley was manager of the Allegheny County Office of Property Assessments from 2006-12 and vice chairman of the county Board of Property Assessments Appeals and Review from 1997-2000.
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