Certainties in Life…

Certainties in Life…

Death and school tax increases? About a quarter of the school districts in Allegheny County have applied for an exception to possibly exceed their Act 1 index that determines the degree to which school taxes can rise in a given year (both the Education Department’s spokesman and a business manager of a western PA school district made the point that even though a district is granted an exception it may choose not to use it) but this year is when new assessments have gone into effect, so homeowners who live in those districts where revenue neutral rollbacks by the County and the municipality may have minimized the tax bill bite may see that disappear. Know too that tax increases could be coming in districts that did not apply for an exception because Act 1 allows for increases up to the cap without a separate action.

The Department of Education has data on school tax rates going back to the 2002-03 school year (all districts in Allegheny County run on a July-June fiscal year except Pittsburgh) and, after tossing out a few districts that straddle the County line and Clairton, which has separate rates for land and buildings, the median tax rate that year was 18.45. Wilkinsburg had the highest millage rate at 32, South Allegheny had the lowest at 13.83. By the 2011-12 school year, the median rate had risen to 23.27 (a 26% increase, the Pittsburgh area CPI increased 33% from 2002 to 2012, so the growth was slower than inflation) and Wilkinsburg still topped the list (at a higher 35 mills) and Pittsburgh was the lowest at 13.92.

If we look at the years prior to when the Act 1 index took effect (2002-03 through 2006-07) the median millage rate for the County’s school districts rose 16%; since then, under the Act 1 provisions (2007-08 to 2011-12), school taxes have climbed 8%. Note that the pre Act 1 years from 02-02 to 03-04 and 03-04 to 04-05 saw some very big jumps (4.8% and 5.5% respectively) and that, outside of those years, the percentage change in the median school tax rate in the County does not look much different before or after Act 1. The median rate did fall in 2011-12 by 0.7% from where it stood in 2010-11, however.

That’s little consolation to taxpayers whose district may have increased taxes year after year or intends to use an exception this year, but overall the degree of increase overall has slowed over the past few years.