Monday, August 17, 2009

Monday: Will They or Won't They?

A nice article in Sunday's P-G helped us all understand a lot about what is so troublesome with property reassessments:

The problem is abundantly clear to Mr. O'Neal and his neighbors in Bedford County, where, until this year, property had not been reassessed since 1957.

"Our [reassessment] is most likely going to force a lot of folks to sell their land because they just can't pay the taxes on it," said Mr. O'Neal, whose farm is about two miles south of Clearville. He will see his annual tax bill double on the 517 acres he owns -- from about $7,500 to $16,000 -- as a result of the new reassessment. (P-G, Karamagi Rujumba)

Alright, fine. A very sticky wicket. But of course:

In the Allegheny County case, the court ruled that not setting a timetable for regular reassessments is unfair because changing values allow owners of properties in declining areas to pay too much and those in growing areas to pay too little. (ibid)

I would just like to hear an acknowledgement from somebody who is not a judge or a journalist. "It is unfair, the way it works now". It is one thing to call for a statewide solution while grumbling about a mean old judge, it is another thing to do so while acknowledging what I think is an indisputable moral justification for change. As it stands, unless I've missed something, it's legitimate to wonder whether any given politician recognizes or cares about straightforward unfairness. That is one thing I look for in politicians, particularly in Democratic primaries. The Democratic party supposedly prides itself on just this exact thing.

Among [the Bedford Taxpayers Association's] stated objectives are to either get the results of the recent reassessment thrown out or the members of the board of commissioners that implemented it kicked out of office. (ibid)

Yes, yes. Very scary, very real. Groups like this will probably ensure that any statewide solution is partial, incremental and itself of dubious constitutionality -- as will Comet Senior Political Analyst Morton Reichbaum, who does not trust that the government will assess his property fairly given an opportunity to do so, and does not believe it will reduce the millage like its supposed to to achieve revenue-neutrality.

Still. An acknowledgement. It might even educate a few voters, making the inevitable medicine go down easier. I'm not actually sure run-of-the-mill property owners are aware of the connection. And I'm certainly not convinced that a statewide solution is being sought / pursued so much as it is being quote-unquote "called for".


Ed Rendell hires Vincent Fumo's press secretary [Cough, guffaw]. [Coughaw?] (P-G, Tom Barnes)

Say what you want about it, Dok Harris has staked out an identifiable Positive Vision For The City. This has supposedly been a stumbling-block of challengers past. The only problem is, it's so early everybody's going to copy it. "Oh, yeah. That was me. Totally." (P-G, Rich Lord;Trib, Adam Brandolph)

Meanwhile, our anonymous blowhard friend (one amongst many) is attaching a few more partisan harpoons into Kevin Acklin's hide. (Infinonymous)

I'm no security maven, and for all I know this sort of thing is actually getting taken care of, but:

"People do have the right to free speech, and if they are not going to provide us with the proper avenues to express that right, I am a little afraid for what might happen," she said. (P-G, Kaitlynn Reily; see also Trib, Matthew Santoni)

Me too. Srsly.


  1. "...and does not believe it will reduce the millage like its supposed to to achieve revenue-neutrality."

    That's what I'm afraid of. A reduced millage is like the yeti. Some people say they've seen one, but I'm going to doubt until I see one with my own eyes.

  2. "Reassessment" has the same meaning as "Tax"

    You give more of you money to the government. Fair or unfair, people want to keep their money. I know I do.

  3. Just so to make a distinction, Bram, an assessment is not the same as an appraisal. They both seek to determine the value of property, but the valuation process differs. Appriasals are often far more comprehensive than assessments, and the value conclusion is supported by data. In addition, appraisers are licensed professionals while assessors are not. If you want fairness on a property to property basis, you want an appraiser to determine value for tax assessment purposes.

  4. On Sept. 25th, I'm going to have a protest about property taxes downtown. Just assume everyone protesting downtown is opposed to higher property taxes.

  5. Anon 12:30 - 2nd time I made that error. At least this time it was only in my graphic. I agree that the "Let the real estate appraisers do it!" argument deserves some real consideration.

    Anon 12:06 - Again, if the millage drops as it should to make things revenue-neutral, only some people will see a tax increase; for the rest "reassessment" will literally mean "tax cut", a happy concept. Of course the former is much more likely to be the case for the wealthier portion, AKA the voting portion AKA the politically active portion.

    All of which calls democracy sharply into question. As a system of government it is by leaps and bounds the most perceivable as legitimate (one-man one-vote feels less arbitrary, grudges are funneled back into the process) and boasts in its hosts the most long-term stability (less coups, much more regime-to-regime predictability). But its ability to bring able and agile government is dubious; the best one can say is it can be relied upon to deliver mediocre government, nothing too awful but not very wonderful either. Which is fine until such time as mediocre government isn't good enough anymore; hence democracy's inability to stave off crises of steadily-increasing magnitude. Where it stops, nobody knows.

  6. As newspapers decline in importance and TV news becomes increasingly vapid and superficial, democracy will have trouble functioning well. I mean, despite the fact that they are annoying and no less partisan, the suburbanites who point out that City government is locked up by a conservative local Democratic party have a point.

    Which brings us to re-assessments. First, Onorato is still trying everything he can to delay indefinitely having a re-assessment. It appears now that counties in Pennsylvania are saying they won’t reassess until others do, with the result that all are locked in non-assessment mode. Second, the devil is in the millage, whether it is adjusted downward to allow only a small windfall. I can see the City simply trying to get away with a big windfall, since it desperately needs the money. As far as whether poor neighborhoods like Garfield, Homewood and the Hill would see their assessments go up, it depends on how realistic the assessment is. I still remember reading Chris Briem saying that some houses in some poor Pittsburgh neighborhoods might have a negative value, that is, that you would have to pay new people to move into the neighborhood. The only thing keeping people in the neighborhood now is the impossibility of actually selling their houses. So, depending, the poor neighborhoods might not see much of a change in property taxes, especially with that homestead exemption thing. The people (in the City) who might be hit are in Shadyside and Squirrel Hill, and a few other places.

    But I think it is fairly criminal that Onorato is letting the wealthy off the hook in Allegheny County as far as paying their fair share of taxes. All so he can generate good will (and campaign donations) for a run for governor.

  7. "It is unfair the way it works now."

    Amen, Bram.

    It is much easier for politicians to hide behind the reassessment=higher taxes canard and, in the process, pretend to be on everyone's side, than it is to explain, in anything beyond a sound bite, that the process is unfair to many people, that a proper reassessment (yeah, I know, there's the rub) would make it fair to a hell of a lot more people, and that, in fact, barring a municipality taking a huge windfall, many people's taxes will go down.

    If your property is reassessed close to its fair market value and your property taxes go up, then you can comfort yourself in the notion that you've been underpaying for years and enjoying the break.

    As someone who's house is assessed almost exactly at its current market value, and who knows for a fact -- thank you, county web site -- that many other houses in his neighborhood are assessed far below their current market value, I'm kind of sick of seeing many of my neighbors pay less than their fair share. And of seeing those inequities cemented not just by inaction and illogic, but by political cowardice.

    You're either in favor of fairness, or you're not. And, despite the many potential problems it could produce, a full reassessment is the only possible path to fairness in property taxes.

  8. Chad: You can appeal. It isn't hard. Print out your neighbors' valuations (assuming the houses are basically the same size, etc.) and take them in as evidence. The county probably knows the other assessments are too low, but the easy way out is to lower your assessment.

  9. Can't wait to see new assessment for properties @ Alpark Terrace, Pittsburgh's Oldest Mobile Home Community...

    ...Like Penn Dot building Interstate Highway in your backyard.

    'cept Penn Dot would be held accountable for decrease in privately owned property...

    Unions do as they wish, cause they have elected officials scared of decrease in campaign donations...

    Rich Stanizzo head of the building trades is an arrogant protagonist...

    ...innocent blood drips from his hands and his Brothers.

    Alpark property is hereby cursed.

  10. MH,
    That attitude is the crux of the issue.

    Not all of us are just willing to go along with the sham.

  11. If more people appealed, the sham would end much quicker. Besides, I'm trying to support a local brewery and pay private school tuition. Given the condition of the roads and the schools, local government is lucky that I don't smuggle liquor from Ohio.

  12. Let me see if we have a general consensus here:
    1)Real estate appraisers shall perform the assessments, now.
    2) The public and our governments will review the results of the assessment, now. Allow for a period of time to appeal the results?
    3) We'll quantify the revenue change (up or down) in each taxing body (municipality, county, school district, etc.) based on the reassessment.
    4) A change in the tax rate shall be enacted to provide for a neutral or perhaps even a negotiated revenue increase for the next fiscal year.
    5) Pittsburgh continues population decline due to poor reporting of 2010 census, receives less government aid and raises taxes.

  13. N'at: You get what you pay for with'raise'rs.

    Looking for equity loan to send kids to college? Appraiser's can and will over estimate value of property...

    Want to pay medical bills because you are out of work and on the mend? Property has decreased value because of your inability to pay.

    Roll your gurney out to the curb...with all the other white trash. Join Alpark Terrace residents, why don't 'cha?

    Own 400k on an underwater home that is worth 200k and you still own 300K...well, there is Obama Stimulus Dollars available not to protect your investment in property...but the banks.

    Shell game, is it not?

    Time to eliminate property taxes is here and now. Gaming revenues?


  14. "People do have the right to free speech, and if they are not going to provide us with the proper avenues to express that right, I am a little afraid for what might happen," she said. (G, Kaitlynn Reily)

    Nicely said...

    Maybe I will be arrested mixing blood from chickens with Elmer's Glue and slashing down filled pillow with knife....and applying both to first Union Official that attends G-20 summit...(tar and feathers, not knife)

    I curse newly aquired property of Local 154 at the expense of disavantaged...rot in hell, you surely will.

    The International Union of Boilermakers Local 154 in the person(s) off Rich Stanizzo (and Contractor brother) should be aware that residents of Alpark Terrace are offended by you and your treatment of the poor.

    Not surprising you sit at same table and break bread with the G-20 participants...and, the P-G endorses your participation, in editorial.

    Absolutely sickening!

    Alpark Terrace is cursed...and Stannizo, will cough feathers.

    See you at Point State Park, PA State Sen. Ferlo...

    ...unless of course... your parking is paid with Local 154 dollars...

    ...never knew you to golf: but I think I knew ya. (CCB Asbestos 1991)


  15. The use or disuse of appeals is irrelevant to the issues in the current lawsuit. Under a base year system you can only appeal errors in what you think your home was valued in the base year. Your home could be selling for 10 times what it was in 2002, but that could not be considered by the appeals process under current law.

    Anti-windfall provisions in state code have been strengthened since the 2001 assessment and certainly some are incredulous that they would ensure revenue neutrality.. I understand that, but it would be tough for a municipality/SD or county to stray too far from resetting millage rates far from revenue neutral rates even if that had been practice in the past.

    Some history may be relevant. When the first assessment took place, the plan all along had been for reassessments to happen annually. In a sense, they could happen continuously as recent sales data could be plugged into the model as they occurred, thus producing assessed values for all parcels in the county. Would only be done for tax purposes every year of course. But rerunning the model could have happened every day.

    the 2nd reassessment happened, in part because Sabre was effectively fired and CLT brought in... BUT then Roddey decided to not do assessments every year, but every 3 years. Of course he wasn't re-elected then and this pushed the isuse onto his successor. I honestly don't think it mattered whether he would have been re-elected or not. Once that decision was made to stop the annual assessments, there was not much hope of the political process ever doing a reassessment ever again. It left DO in a pretty untenable position when 2005 came around and a reassessment was schedule to happen. That decision to not go ahead with annual assessments is the root of the current issue. If you are cynical you can only explain it as an attempt to give JR a chance at being re-elected. it wasn't enough obviously, but there was absolutely no technical or practical reason a 2003 assessment could not have occurred and thus lighten the 'sticker shock' which is at the root of the public's justifiable fear of the assessment process.

  16. I would have guessed links to my assessment-related observations rather than to my less-important thoughts about Mr. Acklin's petition challenge, but what would I (as a blowhard) know?

  17. About the downtown condo's, they get relief from property taxes, which includes School tax. This relief is for ten years. 10 YEARS!

    They, (residents) still have to pay income tax, however if you are retired and living on a pension, (which these condos have been heavily marketed to), it is a huge bonus because your tax bill is hugely limited.

    There is a cap on the value, I believe it is $250,000, and you pay taxes on the value above that amount, but someone may want to check on the exact amount and yes the School board bought into this and voted on it. In essence, how do you figure that into a fair assessment?

    Please don't tell me that these buildings would have sat there, not contributing anything to the tax rolls for 10 YEARS if they were not converted into condo's.

    There was a comment on here earlier that possibly the buildings should be torn down, and that the property should be used differently. I agree. As far as buildings with historic significance, the former Union Trust Bank Building, is one of the least valuable old buildings of aesthetic value of it's time, bland, as it was described for the time.

    What is the difference if it sat there empty, with no taxes, than if sat there for ten years and still no one pays taxes? What would be the difference if it was torn down, and the property used in a more valuable way? We will never know, because tax dollars subsidized it, and tax dollars are taken away because of it's continued existance.

    Explain to me how it was so simple to tear down a building the significance and beauty of the Syria Mosque, yet, we must publicly pay for private condos, providing few tax dollars back in a building that has very little historical significance nor beauty?

    On an related note, I heard something tonight on the radio that really hit home. We keep rewarding politicians for rewarding us (or holding us hostage) by spending or granting us back OUR tax dollars in development. It is our money folks, and we have a right to say how it is spent and where we don't want it spent!

    I don't send my children to city schools, yet I live in the city and I pay city school taxes. I get no "Pittsburgh Promise" dollars. Why? I don't know, you tell me? I now have people living in a condo downtown, who pay no real estate tax, no school tax yet probably have more political influence on how my tax dollars are spent and anyone wants to argue how upside down this system is?

    Please don't tell me it's class envy, or the working class blue collar envy, what is it is is down right criminal that the working class is held to a different standard than the elite!

  18. Speaking of ten year abatements, aren't the first of the new buildings in the South Side going to hit their ten years very soon. I remember looking at them in 2002-3 and there were some that had already been there for at least a year.

    As for why you don't get Pittsburgh Promise for sending your kids to private school, that's easy. The point of PP is to fix the schools by bringing in kids with smarter/more involved parents. This is the cheapest way to fix a school, especially when you can't actually change anything because the teacher's union is too strong.

  19. Smarter more involved parents grew weary of using their children as lab rats in an experiment (city schools) that continually fails to produce results. Children of city residents who pay taxes, city school taxes, and private school tuition at great sacrifice of their parents, should enjoy the same rights, and endowments as other children of city residents.

  20. Infinonymous - Sorry about that, I'm trying to relate that 'blowhard' is a term of affection, to me. Sloppy.

    C.Briem - If you could point me in the direction of the exact ordinances which make reduction of the millage near-inevitable (I know, I know) that'd help me with some side-conversations I'm having over e-mail.

  21. Bram, though I'm not one of your e-mail correspondents, let me advise you not to bother. Any state law can be changed by a simple vote of the legislature/signature of the governor. And the state is also broke and looking for money. I don't think you'll convince anyone who isn't already convinced.

  22. If any state legislators read this, I do have a deal for you. Let any grocery store sell beer and wine and I'll support your extra income tax for 2 years. Kill the PLCB and I'll go for 5.

  23. 2005: P.L. 382, No. 71

    2004: P.L. 746, No. 91

    for sure MH is correct... but what the legislation ensures is that there needs to be an explicit vote by a local municipality/SC/county to raise taxes. That at least puts this into a political process. What would happen is that millage rates would be adjusted for an assessment, but unbeknownst to the public a windfall revenue would result.

    The issue that certain developments are state tax abated KOZ's is a real issue not talked about a lot... what does happen when the abatement period ends. Lots of questions over how the value of that abatement would be capitalized into values and whether the mix of residents will change post-abatement.

  24. You can already see the process happening at the state level right now.

    1. The state government doesn't have enough money to fund what is wants to fund.

    2. For some mysterious reason, the funding crisis hits Head Start or the Agency for the Care of Photogenic Children and Eldery People with Heart Warming Stories.

    3. Taxes go up without anybody outside of government being able to point out things that could easily be cut without hurting tax payers (i.e. the upped pension promises that seemed dubious during the boom years, etc.) or things that could be cut which would probably help taxpayers (the size of the leg, walking around money, state stores).