Disappointed by the lack of information available to taxpayers, Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner unveiled her property tax “Windfall Watch” in an effort to promote greater transparency in this process. Wagner’s “Windfall Watch” can be found at http://windfallwatch.alleghenycontroller.com . Citing no central place for taxpayers to access information to determine whether their taxes are fair, Wagner has made it her goal to bring accountability to this process.
“Due to years of inaction by the County and State Legislature to create any real enforcement of anti-windfall laws, taxpayers must take their own initiative,” Wagner said. “My ‘Windfall Watch’ program will help taxpayers get the information they need to be assured millage rates are fair and in compliance with appropriate laws.”
Wagner initiated this program to help monitor taxing bodies’ compliance with anti-windfall laws. The law requires that after a county-wide property reassessment, all political subdivisions, including counties, municipalities, and school districts, adjust their tax millage rates to prevent a windfall of property tax revenue. A “windfall” is additional property tax revenue generated as a result of an increase in the total assessed value of property due to a countywide reassessment. Since January, Wagner has questioned the County’s new 2013 millage rate and its potential for an illegal windfall. Independent observers have agreed that the rate may be too high.
“Just as I have done with Allegheny County, I will fight to ensure there are no backdoor tax increases on taxpayers by any taxing body.” Wagner said, “It is my goal to work with municipalities and school districts during this process to ensure compliance with the law and offer any assistance that I can to protect taxpayers.”
Wagner’s Windfall Watch begins with tables outlining millage rates for 2012 and 2013 compared with total Certified Assessed Value for the same years for Allegheny County and all of its 130 municipalities. The vast majority of Allegheny County’s 43 school districts set their millage rates based on a July 1st fiscal year. As information becomes available for school districts, their millage rates and changes in Certified Assessed Value will be added to Wagner’s Windfall Watch page.
In addition to notifying local officials of the program in a letter, Controller Wagner today also sent a letter to the Office of Property Assessment. Wagner requested that OPA provide any updates to Assessed Value totals provided to taxing bodies to adjust their millage rates. Wagner noted that although the County certified the values in mid-December 2012, OPA had been sending updates to municipalities.
“This constant changing of values brings added confusion to the process, so I want to ensure that taxpayers have access to the same information as the County is providing to their local officials. Currently, this level of transparency is not being provided.” Wagner stated.