If advocates for creating a new “Children’s Fund” can gather the requisite signatures, voters in Allegheny County will be asked to raise the County’s property tax millage about a year after they participated in a statewide ballot question to eliminate property taxes on homesteads. Based on a news article the question as proposed reads:
“Shall the Allegheny County Home Rule Charter be amended to establish the Allegheny County Children’s Fund, funded by Allegheny County levying and collecting an additional 0.25 mills, the equivalent of $25 on each $100,000 of assessed value, on all taxable real estate, beginning January 1, 2019 and thereafter, to be used to improve the well-being of children through the provision of services throughout the County including early childhood learning, after-school programs and nutritious meals?”
The questions are plentiful, including: how much is spent in the County from various sources (Federal, state, local, school district, non-profit) on these programs? What are the outcomes of these programs? How will the money be distributed? Who will oversee it?
Let’s look at some of the fiscal and Charter implications of the question should it proceed. The County’s property tax rate is 4.73 mills. Based on current collections of real estate taxes ($367 million for 2018) about $19 million would be raised from an additional 0.25 mills. The County currently has five operating funds: two (general and debt service) receive money from the property tax. Three (liquid fuels, transit support and infrastructure support) account for revenues other than property taxes (share of fuel taxes, drink and car rental taxes and the local add-on fee for auto registration).
To date only one section of the Charter has been amended, and that was in 2005 to eliminate several row offices. There is a Council-proposed amendment that is still in committee that may also be on the November ballot.
Charter language on changing the rate of taxation by a 2/3 vote of the seated Council members and fixing the rate of taxation seems to mean that, if the question should pass, at least 10 of the 15 members would have to vote to impose the tax.
If a 0.25 mills increase in property taxes for a special purpose via the ballot sounds familiar, it should. Voters in the City of Pittsburgh approved such a levy in 2011 for the Carnegie Library system. That question read:
“Shall a 0.25 mills special tax be imposed by the City of Pittsburgh on all taxable real estate in the city of Pittsburgh effective Jan. 1, 2012 and thereafter, the proceeds of which shall be allocated and used only for the maintenance and operation of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh?”
Following the ballot question’s approval the City Council–which does not have the 2/3 requirement like the County but still has to fix the rate of taxation–had to take action on an ordinance to impose the tax “based on the will of the majority of those voting” on the question. The language of the ordinance is now in the City Code.