Letter Writer’s Shock Should Be Channeled

Letter Writer’s Shock Should Be Channeled

A letter to the editor today from a resident of Mechanicsburg who still owns property in Allegheny County who just received his 2013 County tax bill expresses outrage over a 60% tax increase in his taxes. The letter does not divulge the location of the property (only that the writer "still own[s] property back in the Pittsburgh area, but had to move to Mechanicsburg for employment 25 years ago") or its type (if it is residential, commercial, industrial, land, etc.)

Let’s assume for simplicity sake that the writer owns a single family home in Penn Hills that was assessed at $50,000 in 2012. He could not take the homestead exemption as that is not his primary residence, so at the 2012 tax rate of 5.69 (following the millage rate hike), his Allegheny County tax bill would have been $284. If his 2013 County bill is 60% higher, or $454, that means the value of the structure would have risen to around $95,000 (almost doubling) based on the 4.78 millage rate that was printed on the County tax bill. That increase in value would be far in excess of the percentage changes for the County and all municipalities based on December assessment data.

The writer is angered as well because someone unspecified said he "…should not worry about my taxes going up quickly as there is a clause in the tax code that limits the increase to 5 percent". This is incorrect in that the state law applying to Allegheny County says after a reassessment tax rates must be rolled back to be revenue neutral and then, if the taxing body so wishes, they can raise tax rates so that they can get an additional 5% from the prior year’s revenue and then if more is desired, a petition to the courts can be undertaken. What someone at the County in person or through public pronouncements should have done is to explain that an increase in one’s property value has to be gauged against the increase of the taxing body to determine if taxes go up, down, or remain unchanged.

What is perhaps most amazing is that the letter writer, presumably as a real property owner in Mechanicsburg, which is located in Cumberland County, somehow forgot that his home county just reassessed in 2010. Maybe the reassessment did not result in a significant jump in his county taxes, which is entirely possible, or it did, which is also possible. Cumberland County, which assesses property at 100% of market value just like Allegheny County, just increased taxes in 2013 (from 2.045 mills to 2.274 mills), which meant a tax increase for him and all other taxpayers in the County.

If the letter writer really wants to get steamed he might calculate what his assumed $95,000 home in Allegheny County would pay in county real estate taxes vs. his assumed $95,000 home in Cumberland County would pay-it’s a $236 difference. There might be a lesson about the cost of county government in there.