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'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Letter to the Editor
Thursday, June 19, 2014, 8:55 p.m.

Aaron Aupperlee's news story “Gap between property values, sales a homeowner's boon in Allegheny County” appears to be good news for taxpayers but the “common level ratio” cuts both ways, depending on where a property is in Allegheny County. Until the ratio dips below 85 percent, it will punish taxpayers buying homes in areas that are appreciating in value.

Why? The taxing bodies will continue to win appeals on homes being sold, based on retail sales prices with 3-year-old base-year assessments. In a landmark state Supreme Court decision in 2006, the justices wrote that the General Assembly's flawed and possibly unconstitutional assessment scheme “has, in effect, carved out a class of taxpayers who are subjected to an unfairly high tax burden — namely, those whose assessment is appealed by any taxing district in which the property is located. ... (Because) this classification is not based on any legitimate distinction between the targeted and non-targeted properties, it is arbitrary, and thus, unconstitutional. ... Indeed, the unfairness arising out of such a scheme is acknowledged by the Board of Assessment Appeals ... .”

It's important to note that Washington County is having a court-ordered reassessment because the variance of 1981 assessments to current sales prices is more than 15 percent. This means high-end commercial properties are appealed and receiving huge assessment reductions before reassessment. This shifts the tax burden to the residential sector in most cases, because millage is adjusted to compensate for the diminished assessment roll.

One person's tax break is another person's tax. The General Assembly must amend the archaic and unfair assessment and tax laws.

Michael J. Suley

Mt. Lebanon

The writer is a past president of the Realtors Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh.

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