Allegheny County's newly taxable list may be incorrect

Organizations say county made errors in their tax-exempt status

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Allegheny County may need to double-check its numbers before counting its savings on tax-exempt properties.

Several property owners are asking why they were included on a county list of formerly tax-free parcels that have been made taxable once again, arguing they're still a charity -- or that they've been paying taxes all along.

"It was a big shock this morning -- I really couldn't believe it," said Chad Hurka, president of the South Baldwin Volunteer Fire Co, whose $766,100 headquarters could be stripped of its tax-exempt status. "Why didn't they send us that before they published that list? It's slightly embarrassing, especially for a volunteer fire company."

Earlier this year, Allegheny County sent letters to 2,800 charity-owned properties, asking for proof the parcels were still be used for nonprofit purposes. Most owners have provided proof or asked for an extension, but County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced last week that 20 properties had already thrown in the towel, potentially bringing $8.7 million back onto the tax rolls.

His office later released a list of the "self-reporters," which ranged from a $2.1 million corporate office building in West Deer to a vacant lot in Wilkins.

Some of those owners now say they have no idea what the county is talking about.

Kathy McAllen, manager of the Electric Heights Housing Association, works in a $620,000 building in Turtle Creek. They've paid taxes on the property for as long as she can remember, she says.

Wednesday morning, a tenant pointed out the county list had labeled the property as a former charity.

"I don't know where that came from. Frankly, we never were," she said. "I guess something must have been lost in translation."

Her story was echoed by a third organization that is still trying to track down the parcel of land the county is talking about.

Amie Downs, spokeswoman for Mr. Fitzgerald, said the county's list only included a property if its owner clearly marked it in the survey as not being used for tax-exempt purposes. She's not quite sure what the confusion is -- the organizations filled out these forms themselves.

Still, each initial determination will be followed up with an in-person visit, she said.

"This is the middle of the process," she said. "This is nowhere near the announcement of the ending of the process."

Mr. Hurka, the fire department president, just hopes he has a chance to set things right. He says he sent in documentation showing the fire station was still tax-exempt, including its social hall, which can be rented.

Baldwin Borough has two other fire companies, he said. Why was his on the list?

"We've been nonprofit since we started," he said. "I don't know why the county is going after us."

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Andrew McGill: or 412-263-1497.


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