Will Legislation Stop the Reassessments?
An explanation of PA House Bill 2137 and how it should not be used to stop Allegheny County assessments
There have been various news articles in the last few weeks relating to a bill that was recently passed by the Pennsylvania State House relating to property reassessments. Some are predicting that this bill will suspend the current reassessment in Allegheny County. Below you will find an explanation of this bill, and why it ultimately should not and will not stop the reassessments from being used for taxation purposes in 2013.
We certainly do not support an increase in property taxes to all residents of Allegheny County, but we do think that people should pay uniformly. We believe this Allegheny County assessment can help us reach a point where property owners are being treated fairly and paying what they should. Reforming property taxes (i.e. increasing the income and/or sales taxes) is not the topic of this article; however, if we are going to use the current system, then it must be used as fairly as possible.
PA HOUSE BILL 2137.
The Pennsylvania State House recently passed House Bill 2137, calling for a moratorium on court-ordered Allegheny County assessments on property taxes. The Senate will consider passage of this bill at the end of April. A similar bill was passed by both houses last year, but was ultimately vetoed by Governor Corbett because the bill applied only to Washington County, and legal experts agreed it would not survive constitutional challenges.
If passed by both houses and signed by Governor Corbett, House Bill 2137 would restrict local taxing entities in Pennsylvania from beginning a reassessment process in their area. Counties currently in the midst of a reassessment (Allegheny County) would have the ability to petition the court to delay the process until either the General Assembly has enacted legislation to address the declarations of this bill, or until December 31, 2013, whichever comes first.
The Allegheny County Assessments Help More Than They Harm.
As the recent public outcry against the Allegheny County assessment demonstrates, the public is largely against the 2012 reassessment. Why would they favor it? Many people saw increases to their assessed value, sometimes experiencing a double or even triple to their previous assessed value. Others saw errors in the building descriptions listed for their properties, and varying assessment values for very similar properties on the same street.
Yes, it is easy to disagree with the reassessment process. Politicians certainly like to use this issue as a platform, but various aspects of the Allegheny County assessments are often overlooked.
- The current Allegheny County assessment was the result of a judicial decision stating that the 2002 base year previously used for assessment purposes in Allegheny County violated the Uniformity Clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution.
- The majority of people in Allegheny County will actually see a DECREASE to their tax bills in 2013. With reduced, sustained, or even slight increases to the assessment value of your property, a drop in millage rates will result in a reduced property tax bill next year. This may help lower property taxes for over 60% of the residents.
- Counties in the midst of a reassessment have already spent millions of taxpayer dollars on the reassessment process. The Allegheny County assessment cost more than $12 million to complete. In addition, millions of dollars have been spent since the reassessment numbers were sent out to pay the hundreds of hearing officers who have been hearing the thousands of appeals that have been filed since January. If we waste the money spent, we may have to increase mileage rates again for everyone.
Do You Have a Better Plan?
To those arguing against the reassessment, I ask one simple question: if you are unhappy with the current Allegheny County assessment system, how exactly would you suggest it be improved?
This was the question posed to the Task Force on Property Valuation and Reassessment created by the Pennsylvania House six months ago.
As stated in the Report they released with their results on April 10, 2012, the main purpose of this Task Force was to address the following issues:
- developing standards for county assessment contracting and the disclosure of property valuation information to property owners,
- helping counties determine when a reassessment is warranted,
- suggesting a statewide mandatory reassessment timeline, and
- ultimately to set forth their recommendations for how to improve the system of property tax reassessments in Pennsylvania.
With these ambitious objectives, we were moved to review the results of this seemingly extensive study. Would this Task Force be able to solve a complicated issue that has plagued Pennsylvania lawmakers and taxing entities alike for years? Unsurprisingly, the results were disappointing.
Each of the stated objectives was included in this study. The Task Force explained their findings for each objective, and ultimately stated what their recommendation was. The recommendation for each of these objectives read almost identically, in stating that “The Task Force recommends that its members continue to work with the Local Government Committee and Finance Committee of the House of Representatives as a work group to further develop…”
In short, there were no practical suggestions on how to change and/or improve the current Allegheny County assessment system. Instead, the Task Force repeatedly states that one standard across the state is not practical because of the differing “property inventories, geography and economic conditions.”
It seems that the result of this six month study was something we could have told you about in two minutes: the issue of property assessments is extremely complex, and there is no easy or inexpensive solution that will make everyone involved satisfied.
Get Ready For More Politics, Not Results.
If House Bill 2137 is passed and signed into law by Governor Corbett, politicians in Allegheny County will undoubtedly use their “fight” against property assessments in their political posturing, but it is important for the public to keep perspective. What is the alternative? If the reassessments are suspended this summer or fall through this moratorium, property owners will merely find themselves in the exact same position two or three years from now. No legislative body has any ideas of how to improve this system for reassessments, and based on the results of their six month study, it does not appear that there will be any pragmatic suggestions any time soon.
Even if House Bill 2137 is signed into law, we do not believe that it will stop the Allegheny County assessments. We cannot imagine Judge Wettick overturning the results of 60,000+ hearings because the legislators say they might have a future plan — nor should they stop the Allegheny County assessments. If Allegheny County assessments occur regularly, the shock value of these huge increases in assessment values will eventually be avoided, and the assessment values will be more equitable to property owners across the county.
This is not a perfect system, but it is disingenuous for politicians to be advocating for a system which has already been declared unconstitutional by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and at the same time provide no better solutions for the residents of Allegheny County.
If you have any questions about Allegheny County property assessments or real estate in Pennsylvania, please feel free to contact us for a free consultation.