Allegheny County may lower property tax rate in 2013

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Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald has proposed a 17 percent drop in the property-tax millage rate for next year, to 4.73 mills from the current 5.69 mills.

That figure, released Friday, is the first of three tax rates that will determine whether property owners will see their total real estate taxes rise or fall following a countywide reassessment.

The current certified value for all taxable property is $59 billion. The county is basing its calculations on a total value of $71 billion, a 20 percent increase, for 2013, following all appeals.

Mr. Fitzgerald has been a longtime foe of court-ordered reassessment. He said the need to calculate a new county millage rate before the results of appeals were known would add to the confusion over reassessment. "The whole thing is a mess and chaotic, and this is a typical part of the whole process," he said Friday.

County, municipal and school district millage rates are likely to decline in almost every community as the result of higher aggregate property values. The effect on an individual property, however, will depend on how each new assessment compares to the averages for each community and school district.

Consider the case of a home now assessed at $100,000 and revalued at $120,000 next year. Assuming the property owner qualified for a $15,000 county homestead exemption, this year's county tax bill was $484, based on the 5.69 mill tax rate. The 2013 county tax bill would be $497, or $13 higher, if the 4.73 mill rate is approved by county council.

If the new assessment had risen from $100,000 to $110,000, the 2013 county tax bill would drop under the proposed rate to $449, down $35.

Property owners will have to do similar calculations to figure out municipal and school district taxes. School district levies represent the largest proportion of property taxes.

More than 100,000 property owners have challenged their new assessments, and many thousands of them still are awaiting the results of their appeals. Until they know what their new property value will be, they cannot figure out their new tax bills.

Council is scheduled to introduce the new millage rate at its next meeting on Tuesday. Final action must be taken by the end of the year on the tax rate and the 2013 budgets.

Councilman William Robinson, D-Hill District, said he was calculating his own version of what the county millage rate should be. He said he also wants a full discussion of how the Fitzgerald administration arrived at its number when the Budget and Finance Committee, which he chairs, meets on Wednesday.

Councilman Vince Gastgeb, R-Bethel Park, said he and his GOP colleagues also would be studying the proposed new millage rate as well as all county spending.

While the amount of county property taxes paid by each individual property owner is likely to change, state "anti-windfall" provisions require that the total amount the county collects cannot increase next year. Council could take a separate vote to collect an additional 5 percent in real estate levies in 2013, but members have made clear they have no plans to do so.

Property taxes represent the largest local source of revenue for next years's county operating budget.

The comprehensive financial plan proposed by the Fitzgerald administration projects the county would net $332 million from property taxes next year, $8 million more than the $324 million it expects to collect this year. The difference between those two numbers represents the administration's best guess on the value of new buildings and property improvements.

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Len Barcousky: lbarcousky@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1159.


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