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Cheswick delays decision on property tax rate

| Thursday, Jan. 31, 2002

CHESWICK: Council has delayed its decision about whether to slash the proposed borough property tax hike for 2002 due to lingering uncertainty about Allegheny County property assessments.

Wednesday night's special council meeting was rescheduled for Feb. 12, when officials will adopt the borough's 2002 budget - three days before the state's legal deadline.

The postponement occurred because Allegheny County Chief Executive Jim Roddey and county council are in dispute over this year's $63.6 billion countywide reassessment.

Roddey wants the reassessment to proceed, while council is in the process of filing a petition asking Common Pleas Judge R. Stanton Wettick to freeze 2002 values and revert to last year's controversial $57 billion values.

The issue has yet to be resolved, making it difficult for municipalities such as Cheswick to adopt an accurate final budget.

Based on preliminary estimates, Cheswick officials voted in November to raise the tax rate to 4.665 mills, up from last year's value of 4.038 mills, which represented an increase of about 15 percent.

The new borough reassessment figures released by the county in early January, however, increased the value of land in Cheswick by 9.5 percent.

This translated into about $40,000 more in property tax revenue for the borough than previously expected.

After receiving the higher valuation figure, council reduced the tax rate to 4.138 mills - a 2.4 percent increase - and later considered cutting property tax rates even further.

As it stands, a homeowner whose property is valued $80,000 would pay $331.04, an increase of $8 from last year.

But officials do not want to make a final decision until property assessments are confirmed, which it expects should happen by the middle of February.

"Right now the county doesn't know whether they are going to freeze 2001 values or go with 2002 numbers," said borough secretary and tax collector Andy Bock. "We could go ahead and do something now, but then we might have to go back and change it all again."

Bock said council is considering several property tax rates to prepare for either scenario.

The delay should not impact when borough residents receive their real-estate tax bill, which is scheduled for May 1. Nor should it impact the two-month discount period on paying borough taxes in May and June.

Also unresolved is whether homeowners faced with higher assessments this year who won often time-consuming and costly appeals to reduce assessments in 2001 will face a return trip to the appeals board.

About 45 homeowners in Cheswick won appeals cases last year and 25 more are pending, Bock said. Whether or not these appeal rulings are upheld might impact the borough budget.

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