Two experts from Pittsburgh had their thoughts on reforming property assessments published in a newspaper across the state. The piece is not focused on tax shifts or eliminating school property taxes, but rather how assessments are conducted in Pennsylvania and how they can be changed. As our 2007 report pointed out, based on data collected by the International Association of Assessing Officers, Pennsylvania was the only state in the country where the state did not assess property (leaving it to local government), did not specify a reassessment cycle, did not verify sales data, and did not perform any audits on values.
Since 2007 eleven counties have carried out reassessments–Allegheny County as a result of a 2009 Supreme Court decision, and Washington County is undergoing one now likewise as a result of a lawsuit. As we pointed out in 2007 and years since there must be a cycle for reassessing; this is pointed out by the op-ed as well. Also since 2007 the state Tax Equalization Board has been moved within the Department of Community and Economic Development (and is now titled the Tax Equalization Division). The experts recommend moving STEB into the Department of Revenue (we recommended in the 07 report that Revenue or STEB or a new agency be in charge of overseeing assessments). When the state moved STEB into DCED it charged it with specific duties (described here). What did not occur in the folding in process was stipulating a cycle or coming up with a statistical trigger to inform counties when a reassessment is needed. With 22 states requiring annual assessments and 26 requiring periodic assessments Pennsylvania is woefully out of step.
The experts do suggest an additional $5 fee tacked on to all properties which would then go to Harrisburg but come back when the county is ready to reassess in accordance with national standards. That might help with the financial side, but what if a county simply does not want to reassess and is content with letting the money sit in Harrisburg while arguing to its residents that it should not have to go forward with the process?