Monday, March 14, 2005

Reassessing the Reassessment

One of the more controversial moves made by Allegheny County government in the last few years has been the real estate reassessment plan. For years, properties had been assessed at astonishingly low values in comparison to the actual prices being paid for real estate transfers. Taxes were nice and low due to the low assessment. Within a few years of purchasing my house, I was rather mortified to see that my assessment went up by close to 30%. Goodbye, nice low monthly mortgage payments; the ESCROW went up and about two year's of pay increases at work were shot. The last thing I need right now is a new assessment of my property.

Now, as reported in today's Trib, Allegheny County is preparing to vote on the latest version of the assessment plan. The new plan, pushed by County Executive Dan Onorato, requires a cap on assessments to prevent "a wide swath of taxpayers massive tax increases and help stem a tide of bankruptcies and sheriff's sales." Not to mention, as County Councilman Wayne Fontana points out, a mass exodus of people (i.e. revenue sources) from Allegheny.

At face value, the cap plan sounds very appealing. Who wouldn't support a plan that would keep their taxes down? Ah, but there is the pesky matter of Constitutional law getting in the way. For one thing, there are six categories into which properties would be divided. Assessments could either decrease, stay the same, or go up 1-4 percent. This is a constitutional no-no in Pennsylvania; all taxpayers are to be treated equally under the law here, which must really confound the best laid plans of our leftist social engineers. State law also requires tax rates to be lowered if anticipated revenue increases are higher than 5%. So much for trying to gouge us legally.

Still, legality and constitutionality never discouraged a money-hungry Democrat before, so why should it stop one now? Look for this to end up in the courts. Taxpayers, municipalities and school districts are all going to get on the county for this one. The Trib article rightly gives the last word to CMU economics professor Robert Strauss:

"The time is long overdue for officials in Southwest Pennsylvania to realize that every time they flout best practices, common practices and the state Constitution, they are dissuading people from moving capital and people into Allegheny County," he said.
A sound viewpoint. But are our elected officials listening?

1 comment:

Mark Rauterkus said...

Sure, lots of people are leaving Allegheny County. This exodus has been a problem for the past years. The cap on property taxes isn't going to stop that outward migration. The property mess has helped make this occur. Fontana, the expert for years, was responsible for the mess we are in today the the ongoing crisis. Some expert.