Pittsburgh properties reassessed higher than those in suburbs
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Reassessment of Pittsburgh properties far outpaced those in Allegheny County as a whole, according to the latest certified numbers released Friday by the county.
The value of taxable real estate in the city rose to $20.3 billion, up 48 percent from the $13.6 billion figure used since 2002.
The overall increase for the county, including Pittsburgh, was 32 percent, to $84.5 billion. That number compares to the $64.2 billion current value.
The difference becomes even starker when the jump in Pittsburgh's values is contrasted to the rest of the county, excluding the city.
County aggregate assessments, minus Pittsburgh, rose just 27 percent. The new aggregate value for taxable real estate outside the city is $64.2 billion compared to the base year value of $50.6 billion.
Common Pleas Senior Judge R. Stanton Wettick Jr. has ordered that those new assessment numbers be used by school districts, local governments and the county to calculate their 2013 property tax bills. The state Supreme Court, which ordered the county to reassess, assigned Judge Wettick the task of overseeing the controversial project.
The dramatically higher values for Pittsburgh are elements in a good news-bad news story, Yarone Zober said. He is chief of staff to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and chairman of the Urban Redevelopment Authority.
"It looks like the [development] work we have been doing over the course of the last several years has paid off in increasing the total value of the real estate in the city," Mr. Zober said. "But we have to parse the numbers to see how much [of the jump] represents new development and how much is an increase on existing buildings."
"Our goal will be to cut the millage rate [for 2013] as much as possible," he said. "That should mean that most homeowners should see their tax burden lowered."
State anti-windfall laws forbid local governments from automatically collecting additional property taxes as the result of reassessment. Municipal officials will have to trim millage rates to make them revenue-neutral, although they have the option of then taking separate votes to increase their 2013 collections by up to 5 percent. They would need court approval for any increases greater than 5 percent.
The new certified numbers, which reflect the results of assessment appeals resolved thus far, offer some general guidance to property owners seeking to figure out their real estate tax bills for next year.
In Indiana Township, for example, assessed values will rise 28 percent next year, from $500 million to $639 million. Property owners who saw their own assessments increase by that percentage should see their tax bills remain about the same as the township millage rate is adjusted down. Those whose reassessment rose by an amount smaller than the average for the township could see a reduction in their municipal tax bills.
Judge Wettick has given municipal governments until Jan. 31 to set millage rates and pass their final budgets. State law ordinarily requires that municipalities take those actions by Dec. 31.
Except for Pittsburgh and Mount Oliver, which together comprise Pittsburgh Public Schools, all the other school districts in the county operate on a fiscal year which won't begin until July 1, 2013. That gives school boards more time to craft their 2013-14 budgets and set tax rates for next year.
The state Supreme Court ordered the county to reassess after the justices found that the county's 2002 base-year assessment numbers discriminated against people living in poorer neighborhoods, where property values were not increasing as fast, or were even declining, when compared to wealthier areas. As a result, owners in less-affluent communities were paying proportionately too much in taxes, and those in wealthier communities weren't paying enough. The base-year system, which will remain in use through the end of this year, sought to assess properties at their market value in 2002.
In terms of correcting unfairness in the base-year system, the new values resulting from reassessment appear mixed.
Aggregate values in wealthier communities, like Mt. Lebanon and Franklin Park, have risen less than the county average, while values in some less affluent communities, like Homestead and Rankin, have risen more. The increase in aggregate value for Mt. Lebanon is 26 percent; in Franklin Park, 25 percent; in Homestead, 38 percent; and in Rankin, 68 percent.
More than 100,000 property owners appealed their new assessments, and challenges, especially to commercial properties, are expected to continue next year. That will result in further changes in aggregate values. Many communities and the county already have set aside extra money in next year's budgets for refunds to property owners with successful appeals.
First Published December 22, 2012 12:00 am