Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Allegheny's base-year property tax system unconstitutional - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Allegheny's base-year property tax system unconstitutional - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: Now it's everyone's problem.
The property tax mess that Onorato has made worse has always been everyone's problem. Now it is Onorato's problem too. Onorato ignored the constitution. Onorato ignored his promises to fix the problem from four years ago when he hammered upon Jim Roddey. Onorato is a big part of the problem in this unfolding saga.

Once again these uncreative politicians are fine to go to court for solutions. Rather than judges leading the region, we should have real leaders. Court decisions are NEVER the BEST solution.

Onorato thinks that the judge does not have the authority to rule upon the consitution? Onorato doesn't have the authority to igore the consitution.

Onorato wants to be a base-year county. In other words, Onorato wants to live in the past. In other words, Onorato is content to let the rich get richer and the poor pay more. In other words, Onorato is unfair. In other words, Onorato doesn't want to do his job. In other words, Onorato is interested in buying time, to coast, rather than do the heavy lifting that faces this region.

The assessment system is broken. It needs to be fixed. I want to see it fixed. This venture is a major priority of mine.

Pittsburgh can't live in the past and expect to thrive.

Pittsburgh is dropping its population because people see how unfair it is around here -- and then they depart, voting with their feet.

As a "Geo-Libertarian" -- I look forward to the time when we get these issues out into a community-wide discussion and shift again to a Land Value Tax.

Sprawl, Dan, Sprawl. Dan is going to beg and then sprawl himself on this issue. It is going to hurt him.

It is never a waste of dollars to be fair. It is never a waste to uphold the constitution. It is never a waste to think again about justice when justice isn't happening. This issue will be a sure way to waste political capital -- Onorato's capital.

Funny too how there is another plea to run to the state for a fix, if it can't come from the judges. The state legislature needs to do this and do that. Wrong. I want to be self reliant. I want to fix our own problems. Folks from the other part of the state can't fix our problems. And, the local state reps, such as Tom Petrone and Wayne Fontana, are not capable of fixing these problems either.

Onorato will do all he can to shift the blame to others in this issue as well.

The property tax is the most hated tax when the other taxes are lower. People hate to pay all taxes. When the other taxes increase -- or were to increase -- such as income tax or sales tax -- then the property tax is NOT the most hated tax.

Furthermore, the property tax is the most hated as it is not fair. It is a joke. People hate bad jokes that hit hard upon their family budgets.

Finally, there is one solution that I've talked about a great deal in the past. I'll again raise this concept -- "ASSESSMENT BUFFERING." That's the key to making this reassessment process work.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Now it's everyone's problem.

The legal battle over Allegheny County's base-year property assessment system likely will spread to the rest of the state now that Common Pleas Court Judge R. Stanton Wettick has declared it violates the state constitution.

Wettick also ordered the county to conduct a reassessment for use in 2009, or, at the latest, 2010 if the case is still under appeal.

County Chief Executive Dan Onorato, striking a defiant tone, said the judge doesn't have the authority to dictate a reassessment timeline. Allegheny County won't go through another reassessment unless every other county has to, Onorato said.

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"As far as this administration is concerned, there is no planned reassessment. We are a base-year county and we will remain a base-year county," Onorato said. We believe (Wettick) overstepped his powers."

Onorato plans to appeal Wettick's decision to the state Supreme Court. A decision there would apply to all 67 counties. The County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania plans to join Onorato's appeal, which might not be filed for two months or more.

Forcing every county to reassess would be "a waste of taxpayer dollars," said Doug Hill, executive director of the association.

The state Legislature could be forced to step in and retool the state's confusing array of property assessment laws. Six different laws govern property reassessment. Which law applies where depends on the size of the county. Allegheny County is the only one in the state operating under the Second Class County Code, for instance.

"We absolutely have to recognize there is a big cost to this if you do it like we did six, seven years ago," said state Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Brookline, who, in his former position as county councilman, was the council's point man on reassessment issues. He is a certified real estate appraiser. "It's such a volatile issue. The property tax is probably the most hated tax out there."

Fontana said he plans to revisit the issue by seeing what other states do. Wettick, in his 116-page decision, outlined assessment practices in other states, and attorney Donald Driscoll, who represented the plaintiffs in the constitutional challenge, offered his help to the General Assembly in crafting new assessment laws.

"I do think there is something to be said for uniformity among counties," said Driscoll, a lawyer with the Community Justice Project, a nonprofit law firm Downtown. "It makes sense that this be handled in a legislative manner and not a judicial manner."

Under Allegheny County's base-year system, homes are taxed based on what they were worth in 2002. The system, in use by every other county in the state, is favored by most officials because it keeps home values stable.

Opponents argue, however, keeping home values stable means declining neighborhoods pay a greater share of county taxes than booming neighborhoods. Though the actual values of homes drop, their taxable values stay the same. One of the plaintiffs in the case, Kenneth Pierce, said his Braddock home lost about half its value since 2002. Since his assessment was frozen, however, his taxes haven't dropped.

At the same time, houses in booming neighborhoods are worth more, but they're taxed on the lower 2002 values.

The county's last two reassessments -- in 2001 and 2002 -- caused wild swings in some home values, prompting about 90,000 homeowners to file appeals when the new values came out.

Since every county surrounding Allegheny County has used the base-year system for years, homeowners were fleeing to places like Butler and Beaver counties just so they'd know what their tax bills would be from year to year, Onorato said. That put the county at a competitive disadvantage, he argued.

Voter discontent over those reassessments also helped Onorato defeat former county Chief Executive Jim Roddey in 2003.

The first reassessment on Onorato's watch, conducted in 2004 and 2005, would have raised home values an average of 19 percent. Onorato switched the county to a 2002 base-year system to block the reassessment from taking effect.

Onorato has said, however, that he doesn't favor one system over another -- as long as everyone uses the same system.

If an appeals court decides the base year is unconstitutional, nearly all of state's 67 counties would have to conduct reassessments -- some for the first time since the 1960s.

County officials around the state don't want to have to deal with that, so many likely will join Onorato's side in the lawsuit.

Mike Wereschagin can be reached at or (412) 391-0927.