South Side Parking Revenue

Based on a news article, stepped up parking permit enforcement and nighttime meter collection/enforcement in a targeted portion of the City’s South Side is going well according to some, but may be imposing costs, according to others.  The program is a pilot that is supposed to last for one year, with enforcement of meters and permits extending late into the evening on Fridays and Saturdays.

The article says that the City has reaped $50,000 in revenue from the pilot program.  How much does that represent in what the City expects to get from parking tax and related parking revenues?

Based on monthly revenue estimates from the City Controller’s office, the most recent month posted (April) the Citywide collection of parking tax revenue was $4.6 million; year to date was $13.4 million, which was $1.2 million higher than the year to date in April of 2016.  For the 2017 budget, the city is budgeting $53 million from parking tax; under charges for services, the City is budgeting daily parking meters at $8.7 million;  under fines and forfeitures, $7.8 million; and under intergovernmental $1.8 million from the parking authority.

A Look Back at Charter Schools

There is an ongoing newspaper series about the 20th anniversary of charter school legislation in Pennsylvania.  The first piece focused on the original intent of the legislation and the data related to charters (both brick and mortar and cyber) today.  The second piece examined the Clairton School District in Allegheny County and the District’s experience with charters.  That district has 113 students living in its borders that attend charter schools; no brick and mortar charters are located in the District.  The state Department of Education has a division set up to handle charter schools.

The Allegheny Institute did a lot of research on charter schools in its early years.  Two reports from 2000 (here and here).  Both offer a detailed history of the charter school movement and their approaches to K-12 education as compared with traditional public schools.  As noted in the latter report, a rejection of a charter school board was predicated upon the issues noted in the Clairton article: money.  “The cost of supporting charter schools is the most prohibitive thing” was noted by a board member (of an unnamed district).  Two years ago a different approval process for charter schools was floated to minimize the friction between the school district and the proposed charter.  And once upon a time the Pittsburgh Public Schools wanted to try and improve the relationship it had with charter schools.

County’s CLR Up Slightly

The State Tax Equalization Board (STEB) has published its list of common level ratios (CLR) for counties for 2016.  The CLR is “…the ratio pf assessed value to current market value used generally in the county as last determined by STEB”.  The CLR is the average of individual sales ratios for valid sales in the previous calendar year, certified on July 1st of the following year, and is in use for the following fiscal year.

In other words, the 2016 CLR takes sales from January 1 through December 31, 2016, will be certified July 1, 2017, and be in effect from July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2018.  We wrote about the 2015 CLR for Allegheny County last August when it was 87.1 and expanded on it this year when analyzing 2016 appeals.  Based on analysis of average home prices we wrote that it was a strong possibility that the 2016 CLR would fall further.  However, the ratio is up slightly, from 87.1 to 87.4 based on STEB’s document.

Since the CLR was 100 in 2012 when properties were reassessed, it fell for 2013 (90.8), bumped up in 2014 (92), fell again for 2015 (87.1) and bumped up again for 2016 (87.4).  The previous decade between 2002 and 2012 saw year over year decreases in the CLR with the exception of 2008 when the CLR rose to 87.5 from 86.5 the year before.  Based on a Judge’s ruling the CLR can be used in appeals in Allegheny County, and the appeal activity for 2017 will be analyzed in early 2018.

One Week Left in Fiscal Year: What Will School Taxes Be?

We’ve done plenty of work on school tax millage rates, particularly in Allegheny County among the 41 districts that operate on a July-June fiscal year with a single tax rate on buildings and land (that leaves out Pittsburgh Public Schools and the Clairton School District).  This year (the 2016-17 fiscal year) the average school millage rose 2.1% over the previous year.  Twenty two of the 41 districts increased millage.

Thus far there are a few districts that have had news coverage on their final millage rate.  Baldwin-Whitehall School District increased its rate 1.12 mills; their millage rate was cut 2 mills in 2014-15 and has risen each year since then.  Brentwood School District taxpayers won’t see an increase; the board wanted to give them a break.  Since 2013-14, the year when millage rates were reset to comply with the County reassessment, Brentwood’s millage has increased 19%, from 24.8 mills to the current 29.5322 that was held and adopted for 2017-18.

Deer Lakes and Highlands are holding millage rates steady; neither district has increased tax rates since the 2013-14 adjustment.  As mentioned in Monday’s blog, North Hills increased its millage, and Plum School District boosted its millage by 0.8 mill, giving the District back to back increases.  Qualified homesteads receive school property tax relief from slot machine gaming–but all types of property see any millage increase on their tax bill.

More coverage should come this week, and a comprehensive list should be available in the near future.

Will Transit Conference Find Different Trends a Decade Later?

In October of 2018 a conference will be held in Pittsburgh on transit use, mobility, and development near transit stops.  The website for the organization involved with the conference notes that its conferences–this year’s will be held in Denver–“showcases the link between land use, transit, and development”.

The Port Authority commissioned a study in 2014 by the Urban Land Institute that mentioned increasing its efforts on transit oriented development–the current PAT CEO stated in the article on the conference that “For a lot of years, the Port Authority viewed its work as taking people to work and back and thank you very much, and it sat on some very important assets, particularly land, and so once it was clear that those assets needed work, things started to happen, and the Port Authority is dedicated to that.”  The Port Authority has a document that provides guidelines for transit oriented development.

Back in 2008 when the Transit Revitalization Investment District (TRID) concept was relatively new a study on development near the light rail stations in the South Hills (Dormont and Mt. Lebanon) was undertaken to see the potential for high density development near the light rail stations.  That found both communities were high volume users of transit, but population loss was evident and occurred at greater rates near the stations than the community as a whole.

As we pointed out then, if there was a great demand to live near transit, developers would rush in to develop property owned by the Authority.  This is supposed to be the year when development at the Castle Shannon trolley station is to begin, and the Authority already expended $3 million with a consultant to carry out station improvement projects and identified sites that are “prime for development”.  Can the conference provide more insight that what already seems to be present?

North Hills School Taxes Rise Again

For the 2017-18 fiscal year the board of the North Hills School District (Ross and West View) voted to raise the property tax millage by 0.2 of a mill, bringing the millage to 18 mills total.  Based on a news article on the increase, the average home value in the district is $135,700; applying 18 mills to that value results in a tax bill of $2,442.  Based on data from the Department of Education on homestead tax relief from slot machine gaming, the estimated relief per homestead for North Hills in this fiscal year (ending June 30th) was $126–that would lower the tax bill to $2,316 for the $135,700 home.

One member of the board noted that “…the state puts us in a position where we are constantly going back to the taxpayer”.  In our analysis of school taxes under Act 1 of 2006 guidelines, North Hills school millage increased each year from 2006-07 to 2012-13, with the exception of 2009-10 when the millage dropped 0.25.  After adjusting millage in 2013-14 to comply with reassessed values (17.06) each year since millage has climbed.

As we pointed out in a 2014 Brief on the debate over how Pennsylvania distributed school funds (prior to the creation of the funding formula in 2015) we presented a variety of funding scenarios and North Hills (where a discussion on school funding took place) relative standing on % of budget from the state, dollars per-pupil from the state, and what funding would look like for North Hills if the state were to assume all K-12 funding and gave districts an equal amount per-pupil.

As was noted last week, the proposal to end school property taxes and shift funding to the state through higher personal income and sales taxes while returning the local dollars from property taxes on a dollar for dollar basis has been introduced.  This would certainly affect the board of education in North Hills and their role vis a vis the property taxpayer.  Of the $16,819 in revenue per-pupil (from 2015-16 data) $12,770 (76%) came from local sources. It would be interesting to know their stance on the proposal.

DA Closes Oversight Board Investigation

More than a year after documents and records were seized by the Allegheny County District Attorney’s office, the DA and the PA Attorney General’s office have determined that there will not be any criminal charges filed against the Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority (oversight board) or its former executive director.  The authority board opted not to renew the contract of the executive director effective May 31, 2016.

Since that time the General Assembly passed and the Governor signed legislation making changes to some of the procedures of the oversight board.  In April the current director noted that the DA’s investigation delayed the completion of 2015 and 2016 financial audits required by the revised legislation to be done by end of calendar year.  Presumably the announcement by the DA’s office today will move that process along.

In the announcement the DA noted several concerns he had with the ICA: one being “the lack of proper oversight of the operations of the ICA”.  We noted in a 2016 Brief  that the audits required under the 2004 law were nowhere to be found.  In that piece we offered several suggestions related to oversight and monitoring of authorities (the DA’s announcement also mentioned the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority) including having staff in each legislative chamber be responsible for monitoring compliance with reporting from authorities back to the General Assembly; for elected officials making appointments to authorities to demand reporting from their appointees; and for appointees to read and understand the statute creating the authority so as to know the purpose and responsibilities of it.

Analyzing Act 5

The Governor signed legislation yesterday into Act 5, which affects the pension benefits for future state (SERS) and public school (PSERS) employees in 2019.  The effective date for state employees is January 1 and school employees July 1.

The legislative fiscal notes (here and here) and the actuarial note on the legislation provide most of the basis of information in this blog.  Suffice it to say the Act creates three options for state and school employees hired in 2019; two are hybrid plans with aspects of defined benefit and defined contribution options, and one is a pure defined contribution plan.  The two hybrid plans would create two new classes within SERS and PSERS on top of the classes that exist currently (see SERS handbook and PSERS handbook).  Several classes of public safety employees would be exempt from having to enter one of the new plans; the first hybrid plan would be the default plan for those not making a choice on which plan to enter.

Beyond that, there are multiple differences in the three plans as to how SERS and PSERS employees would be treated on how much they contribute and how much the employer contributes.  Current SERS and PSERS members would have periods to opt-in if they like after the plans go into effect.

The cumulative savings of the changes is estimated at $1.396 billion over a 30 year period ($319 million present value) and lower the unfunded liabilities of the plans by $4.2 billion on a cash flow basis and $1.4 billion on a present value basis.

School Property Tax Shift Introduced

With a little over two weeks until the start of the 2017-18 fiscal year and the start of the school fiscal year for most of the school districts in the state (except Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Scranton) school boards are finalizing their property tax rates.  some news coverage has been focused on preliminary approvals and we will have a comprehensive look at the rates in Allegheny County and likely neighboring Washington County, where school districts have to adjust millage rates due to the property reassessment.

Last week those hoping to see school property taxes eliminated and replaced with higher taxes on personal income and sales got a boost with the introduction of legislation aimed at making the shift happen.  The Property Tax Independence Act, as it is titled by its co-sponsorship memo, was referred to committee in the Senate last Tuesday.  Those less than thrilled to the proposal come back, which would include several school districts in the state that held forums on the proposal earlier this year, will no doubt be getting prepared for debate much like proponents.

The proposal would return state dollars to school districts dollar for dollar to replace real estate revenue, which would be eliminated save for any portion used to retire debt of the district.  The problem is that wealthier districts raising a lot of money locally would get back far more than those getting more from the state.

What Does PAT Want in a Leader?

This past week the Port Authority of Allegheny County (PAT) published on its website an advertisement for a full-time Chief Executive Officer  to lead “…the nation’s 26th largest transit agency” (this is likely based on the number of unlinked passenger trips, which is how the National Transit Database creates its report on the top 50 agencies here is 2015’s report).  The announcement lays out the responsibilities of the position, qualifications, and relationships (with internal and external parties and the board) that PAT desires.

The PAT board of directors was altered nearly four years ago by state legislation to add state level appointees, term limits, and require members to have a background in finance, transportation, or economic development.  The reconstituted board voted unanimously in January 2014 to appoint the interim CEO to the position full-time after a nationwide search conducted by the same firm that is conducting the current search.  The agency is currently being led by an interim CEO as of June 1st.  Based on comments from April when the interim CEO was hired, there is no set timeline for finding a full-time leader.