County council and Fitzgerald fudge tax figures

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In December of 2011 Allegheny County's property tax rate was 4.69 mills. County council, with full support of incoming Executive Rich Fitzgerald, voted to increase the rate by 21 percent to 5.69 mills. This decision was made despite knowing that the new county assessments increased property values by an average of 35 percent and that applying the 5.69 rate to the new property values would increase county tax revenue by 64 percent over 2011.

Knowing that state law prohibits governments from getting a revenue windfall as a result of new property assessments, the county executive suggests reducing the 5.69 rate to 4.73.

Many properties were appealed and the final results are not in, but, for sake of example, assume that the average property value increase ends up being only 25 percent instead of 35 percent. At a 4.73 millage rate, county tax revenue in 2013 would still be 26 percent higher than in 2011.

Give credit to county Controller Chelsa Wagner for understanding this. She suggests a rate of 4.23 mills. Using the same assumptions as above, this rate would mean that county tax revenue would be about 12.7 percent higher than in 2011.

It is a bit deceitful to institute a huge rate increase, then announce a rate reduction that still increases taxes significantly and claim to avoid a tax windfall.

Mr. Fitzgerald accuses Ms. Wagner of simply seeking publicity. I think Ms. Wagner is simply trying to do the right thing.

JAMES J. LEEPER
Aspinwall


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