Today, Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner sounded a cautionary alarm after her analysis revealed that the County could be on track to overcharge the average household by fifty dollars in property taxes in 2013. This overcharge could net the County as much as million in “windfall” revenues. The Controller also expressed concern over the lack of transparency and available information surrounding the County’s current, adopted 2013 Millage Rate. Wagner urged immediate action by the County Executive and County Council to protect county taxpayers and avoid breaking state law.
After pointing out some specific irregularities, Wagner concluded, “There is a strong possibility, from the data we have analyzed, that the County is on track to gain a windfall of as much as million.” The Controller added, “I am calling on the Administration to publicize every detail of their millage calculation to assure all taxpayers that no windfall will occur. No resident of Allegheny County should be overcharged one cent or one dollar, let alone fifty dollars or more for the County’s failure to act.”
In December 2012, County Council approved a property taxation rate for county property owners of 4.73 mills, the same rate suggested by the Chief Executive in his Comprehensive Fiscal Plan. That rate, which Wagner referred to as “arbitrary or preliminary at best”, was adopted prior to the County’s receipt of Certified Assessed Values of all county properties, which were completed in late December. These values revealed a total taxable property value of billion, compared to the pre-reassessment value of billion. Wagner questioned why the County did not adjust its millage after the release of the final values, like other taxing bodies, such as the City of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Public Schools, who decreased millage rates 29% and 31%, respectively, to avoid windfalls.
Because state law prevents municipalities from receiving monetary gains or “windfall” from a reassessment, Wagner believes the County millage rate should be adjusted down by as much as 0.5 mills to a rate of 4.23 mills to comply with the law. A new rate of 4.23 mills, as suggested by Wagner, would represent an overall county reduction of 26%.
Using the Current Assessed Valuation of .6 billion, which includes adjustments from appeals already conducted, and the current millage of 4.73, the County is on target to take in 1.6 million of revenue. This is .2 million higher than revenues in 2012. By contrast, using Wagner’s proposed rate of 4.23 mills, the County could keep revenue in line with 2012’s property tax revenue of 3 million. The additional reduction of 0.5 mills translates to in county taxes returned to taxpayers for every 0,000 of assessed property value.
“Fifty dollars is a few family meals, a tank of gas or two weeks’ worth of bus fare. This is a very significant amount for any taxpayer. Frankly no amount is insignificant, but an average of fifty dollars per household is outrageous.” Wagner said, “This is an issue of fairness and transparency. Taxpayers are entitled to know, in no uncertain terms, that there will be no windfall in accordance with state law that is in place to protect them. Very simply, we deserve some answers.”
Wagner also announced that she will be reviving a previous Controller’s program called ‘Windfall Watch’. This program, first initiated by former Controller Dan Onorato during the last reassessment, will track millage rates for every municipality and school district in the County, to ensure all rates are adopted in accordance with all laws, state and local. The program will be officially launched in the coming weeks.
“For all the theatrics surrounding the reassessment process, the public has been deprived of the transparency, predictability and accuracy they deserve,” Wagner said. “It shouldn’t take a CPA to decipher the County’s tax rate. I will do everything in my power to ensure that every taxpayer is treated fairly and that Allegheny County abides by the law.”