Monday, May 4, 2009

Monday: Mine That Bird

They look good together, no? (P-G, Jerome L. Sherman)

This is a good article, a fair article -- with one absolutely freaking glaring omission which we will address later. (P-G, James O'Toole)

On the other hand, I'm not sure this one was entirely necessary. Sorry if that sounds blunt or heartless, but it's just so much fluff in an era and in an area in which we are experiencing surfeits of fluff. (P-G, James O'Toole)

Yes there is a School Board race in this election. Yes we have a preference. Sorry but that's a state secret for reasons I don't entirely understand (and don't entirely not understand), but I'm just taking cues. (P-G, Team Effort)

I'm shifting my position toward police rifles toward being probably a good idea. Unless Carmen Robinson would like to object for some reason. (P-G, Rich Lord)

Michael Lamb says the Water Authority deal has begun performing better? Is that a relative term, or were we exercised over little, or what? (P-G, Rich Lord)

Speaking of which, weren't we supposed to see a Housing Authority audit by now? Am I missing it entirely? It doesn't appear to be on the website.

I'm still struggling to compute most -- if not all -- of what happened on "Reform Wednesday". It would help if I knew more about Mr. Ravenstahl's and Mr. Peduto's "different approaches to requiring competitive processes for nearly all city contracts". (P-G, Rich Lord)

Be that as it may, this is our cue to turn up the heat on County Council. Let them have it, Burghosphere style. (Trib, Tim Puko)

This is new news to me. I am pleasantly and appropriately surprised. (Trib, Mike Cronin)

No. (Trib, Rick Wills)

Oh hey, look: the Trib's version of the City audit story is better-rounded and more probing. (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times and will happily say it a thousand more: the Judicial Branch is my favorite branch of government. (Trib, Mike Wereschagin)

You guys all read this blog post, right? It's pretty remarkable, given the source and the likely connotations. Things that make you go hmmmmmm. (Null Space)

John McIntire releases his "semi-annual anti-Opie rant". No big secret that I can understand how he got burnt out a while ago. One way or another this genre will soon be put on extended hiatus at the Comet as well, but to underscore previous remarks, not before addressing an absolutely freaking glaring omission. (MacYapper)


  1. What is this glaring omission you speak of Bram?

    The water authority fleecing?

    The handout to Continental Real Estate?

    The Hill District handout to the Pens?

    The dismantling of the planning commission?

    Firing Ron Graziano?

    Pat Ford's “culture of deception and corruption.” claim?

    The $9,000-a-head Mario Lemieux Celebrity Invitational golf outing?

    Allowing McTish, Kunkel & Associates to submit multiple bids?



    Having the city IT staff manipulate a KDKA poll?

    Code violations at Club Pittsburgh?

    The lack of progress in posting contracts online?

    No-bid contracts?

    Cash handouts to convicted felon Joe Edelstein and Wylie Holdings?

    Consulting with Blagojevich's people on his campaign?

    Lying about the trip to NYC?

    The fact that Luke listens to country music?

    What did I miss?

  2. Too many stories, not enough time to look at any of them, let alone do the sort of research needed to do them any justice.

    Speaking of justice, the third story from the bottom, with your enigmatic love of the judicial branch description, shows Stanton Wettick is moving fast on the reassessment business. That issue is also still way complicated, and has outstanding issues that really have never been dealt with. For example, the County largely managed to avoid the housing bubble and it’s bursting. So wealthy property owners are likely to see some price inflation in their property values. But unless nearby properties have been sold recently, it is really difficult to know how to value a property in today’s market. We still have a slight (700, maybe) exodus of population, so sellers probably have to price their properties pretty low to attract the relatively scarce buyers.

    But then, how much will the County even examine properties in the assessment process. A lawyer for one of the parties that sued the County is pushing for some sort of computer aided assessment. I would scoff at that as patently unfair, except for the Google street level program, that allows you to see houses from your desk. So maybe this is a possibility (maybe we could outsource the assessments to India).

    The County is still dragging it’s feet and making threats about how much this process will cost. Not to mention the continuing statements that the appeals process will be unfair as a matter of course. I mean, we should see Cranberry as having lots of more expensive properties, and Garfield as having near valueless properties. But even though there are more poor people than rich, what will be the balance between property value increases versus decreases? And this is before the anti-windfall laws are enforced upon the County (and how will they be enforced?).

    Read any good books lately?

  3. Ed... just fyi.. the only thing being discussed, and the only thing practical both here any any other large juristiction, is CAMA (Computer aided mass assessment) based property assessment system.

    the outsourcing of the initial mass reassessment here is actually a big part of the story I may need to talk about separately.

    antiwindfall laws could be addressed in many ways. The assessment system could itself provide guidance to sd's and municipalities on revenue neutral tax rates. I think when Dan O. was the county controller his office put out information on how well local juristictions were complying with antiwindfall laws then in effect.

  4. Based on the Trib story, the private attorney representing the property owners was talking about CAMA, I don’t think Onorato wants to talk about anything yet (publicly at least). Of course, newspapers are not necessarily the source of all wisdom, but that was what I had to go on. I admit I came up with the Google street thing on my own, but I though it might be an interesting replacement for the old County method of driving by houses. I also have to admit I am not visualizing how CAMA would work, except perhaps as an extension of the existing County Real Estate website/database. I thought I was mostly joking about outsourcing, I guess it will be interesting to see how that plays out.

    I was talking to a gentleman from Erie this weekend, and I mentioned assessments, starting with how recently they had been assessed, as a basis for saying something about Allegheny County. I never got the chance; he said Erie County had just been reassessed, after not having had an assessment since the sixties. Of course, this is all his words, but I gather something interesting must have happened up there. He said a lot of people had seen their property values and therefore their taxes shoot up, even though the properties were not in good shape (he was talking about lakefront property, though). He also said that rich people were bringing lawsuits, because not one appeal of an assessment had been successful (again, his words). It would be worth looking into.

  5. It was posted above, in part: the only thing practical both here any any other large juristiction, is CAMA (Computer aided mass assessment) based property assessment system.I do not agree.

    A land value tax makes life for all much more simple and much more square.

    With the land value tax, the property value in terms of the building(s) is not a factor. The footprint of the land is impossible to hide. All that computer aided drive by and bickering over if it is 2 or 2 and a half baths is spinning of wheels that does not need to occur.

  6. actually Mark its almost the opposite of how it works. The land value capitalizes all of the hard things to quanitfy in an assessment.. especially here in Allegheny County where you have properties so radically different in value only because they are seperated by a couple blocks. They could even be identical structures. The value of the structure isn't so much an issue as one may think. The reasons to go with a land tax, or a split/tiered tax are pretty independent of the assessment issues.

  7. So, we have two owners with same buildings (identical structures) just blocks apart yet different values. Okay.

    But, how are the tax rates?

    Never mind.

  8. I thought that the value of land was 'residual,' i.e. the accepted way to calculate it was to figure out what the land costs with the structures, figure what the structures cost to build (including utilities) and subtract the second from the first. I learned that for new construction and its probably different for existing buildings, but given the importance of location, I don't see how taxing the land will simplify the assessment unless you are thinking of a flat tax per square foot of lang. If you are, that would almost certainly be overturned as it is much less fair than the 2002 base year.

  9. The residual is a good way to think about it. I wouldn't necessarily say that structures are valued at their construction costs per se, but it is also a good way to think about it. I understand why Mark may find it a bit counterintuitive, but it should be clear that at the end of the day.. the difference in a typical home being $700K in San Fran and $70K in Pittsburgh is location... which means it's mostly a difference in the value of the land. The variation in the value of location within Allegheny County has been the bane of property assessments here since forever. If you were to ignore community boundaries the map of values would not make sense. Just for example, the gradient of change between Point Breeze and North Point Breeze is almost impossble to model well.. thus computer models that work well almost everywhere else seem to fail here. That problem would exist with or without a land tax.. in fact it existed when there was a de facto land tax here in the city. The 5/1 ratio tiered tax the city had for decades was as close to a full implementation of a true land tax the US has ever had in a major jurisdiction.. but I think there were problems with the assessment of land over all of that time.. a long story there though.

  10. "Just for example, the gradient of change between Point Breeze and North Point Breeze is almost impossble to model well."

    It's impossible to model well with variables commonly available to property assessors. I'm guessing you could model that gradient very well if you had something like the average number of visits to Whole Foods per resident on a given block.

  11. How Richard Floridian of you, MH. Or perhaps Thorsten Veblenian.

  12. Florida has always sort of seemed to me to provide an excuse not to focus on basic services and infrastructure. (The state and the guy.)