With Allegheny County government losing almost million in revenue a year to property-tax exemptions, Controller Chelsa Wagner today called for County government to require organizations seeking tax breaks to show annually that they meet the requirements for them under Pennsylvania law.

“While some exemptions are fair, like those for churches and soup kitchens, others are plainly unfair, and these unfair tax breaks are causing real hurt to real people as public transit, human services, education and other essential functions of government are cut,” Wagner said. “We need to protect County taxpayers by ensuring that the only organizations that get property-tax breaks are the ones that deserve them.”

A recent state Supreme Court decision enables counties, school districts and municipalities to more aggressively challenge the tax-exempt status of commercial properties owned by non-profit organizations, Wagner noted in a “Taxpayer Alert.”  

“It is our duty and responsibility to address the questions raised by the court ruling and determine whether these properties are used for a truly charitable purpose,” Wagner said. “With our challenging economic climate, now is the time for Allegheny County to act.”

Allegheny County governments are currently forced to rely on an outdated system to determine a property’s true use, thus limiting efficiency and transparency to taxpayers, Wagner said.

“This antiquated system is what allows for-profit ventures to masquerade under a big, non-profit umbrella,” she said. “We can and should change this.”

Wagner called on the Office of Property Assessments and other County departments to:

  •     Require every organization seeking exemption to show annually that it meets the requirements of state law.
  •     Conduct a parcel-by-parcel review to identify exemptions that could be challenged.
  •     Work with municipalities and school districts to challenge exemptions that do not meet state requirements.
  •     Better document and classify exempt properties and make this information available to taxpayers for free online.
  •     Examine its own exempt holdings to determine what can be sold and returned to the tax rolls.

Controller Wagner’s staff will present testimony on her findings at a post-agenda meeting of Pittsburgh City Council on Tuesday, June 26.

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