Another Look at School Tax Increases

Another Look at School Tax Increases

The newspapers reported it this past weekend: just over a third of the 43 school districts in Allegheny County raised property tax rates for the coming 2012-13 school year. The loss of stimulus funds and the state’s fiscal condition, along with the looming pension obligations for the school employee system led districts that did not increase taxes to dip into reserves, shut down programs and buildings, leave positions unfilled, and/or layoff employees. It is a similar refrain statewide.

However, Allegheny County has an additional wrinkle in that there is a pending reassessment that will require districts to adjust their millage rates so that they don’t take in more than the previous year’s Act 1 index would allow. That will happen once the new assessed values are certified. But with the new tax rates for 2012-13 we can measure the impact of school tax increases during the years of the County’s base year plan, which was adopted by ordinance in October of 2005. It is reasonable to measure from the start of the following school fiscal year, 2006-07 through the projected 2012-13 rates, for 42 of the County’s 43 districts (Clairton had a two-tier rate in 06-07 and only one rate was reported in the news report, so it was eliminated).

  • 33 districts had a higher millage rate for 2012-13 than they had in 2006-07. Obviously there is a sizeable range in the degree of how much higher. Some of the larger ones were Cornell (22% higher), Elizabeth-Forward and Northgate (17% higher), and South Fayette (23% higher).
  • 3 districts-Baldwin, Carlynton, and McKeesport-had lower millage rates projected in 2012-13 than they had in 2006-07.
  • 6 districts-Pittsburgh, Duquesne, Plum, Montour, Sto-Rox, and Brentwood-project no change in school millage rate over the years of the base year.

Recall the drumbeat that "reassessments cause tax increases" and realize that over 75% of the school districts in the County increased their tax rates over the years when the County conducted no reassessment and the argument rings hollow. Also realizing that Act 1 does not do much to prevent property tax increases makes that policy measure seem lacking.