Fitzgerald disagrees with Allegheny County controller on reducing tax rate

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Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald this afternoon sharply disagreed with Controller Chelsa Wagner's call for an additional reduction in the property tax rate.

Mr. Fitzgerald said he is "very confident" budget numbers developed by his staff are as accurate as they can be with many commercial property assessment appeals still pending.

Ms. Wagner this morning called for a 0.5 mill reduction in the tax rate to avoid receiving a windfall as a result of new property assessments.

"We could have waited for two years until until everything is done but we have to budget now," Mr. Fitzgerald said. "We feel very confident the numbers we are using are correct."

If reductions as a result of assessment appeals are lower than his staff projects, Mr. Fitzgerald said, he will make changes as necessary in the 2014 budget.

Ms. Wagner said the county could be receiving as much as $38 million more than it should unless the tax rate is adjusted. Allegheny County Council, on Mr. Fitzgerald's advice, reduced the millage last month from 5.69 mills to 4.73 mills.

But Ms. Wagner said that isn't low enough.

In a press conference at the Allegheny County Courthouse, Ms. Wagner said the county's reduction should have reduced the rate to 4.23 mills to comply with state law that prohibits a windfall after new assessments.

She said she expected Mr. Fitzgerald to make that recommendation when he spoke to county council Tuesday, but when he didn't, she decided to go public with her concerns.

Ms. Wagner said the executive and council took "basically a shot in the dark" by setting the millage before final certified assessment results were released. Now that those numbers are available, she said, the millage should be reduced again.

"This really should not be difficult math," she said.

Ms. Wagner said it is important for the administration to act quickly because new county tax bills will be mailed in the next few weeks. It would be costly if the county has to send out corrected bills if the millage is reduced after they have been mailed.

Ms. Wagner estimated that homes assessed at $100,000 would be paying an extra $50 in taxes unless the rate is reduced.

"I don't know one homeowner that wants the county to take an extra $50," she said.

mobilehome - breaking - region

Ed Blazina: eblazina@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1470. First Published January 24, 2013 12:15 AM


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