Non-, mis- & malfeasance in property assessments

Non-, mis- & malfeasance in property assessments

Oh, what a tangled and lawless web pols weave when first they seek to intercede in constitutional mandates — and then deceive.

Yes, once again we speak of Allegheny County’s failure to conduct regular property reassessments to, as the state Constitution dictates in Article VIII, Section 1, ensure that “All taxes shall be uniform, upon the same class of subjects, within the authority levying the tax and shall be levied and collected under general laws.”

The latest chapter in this politically expedient saga is that Pittsburgh Public Schools will challenge a recent court ruling that, as the Post-Gazette reported it, “ordered a reduction from 81.1 percent to 63.53 percent in the number to be used in 2022 appeal hearings to determine the value at which a property will be taxed.”

There hasn’t been a full reassessment since a court-ordered full assessment a decade ago. And, over the ensuing years, taxing jurisdictions (primarily school districts) resorted to what by any other name are “spot assessments” on newly purchased homes with higher sales prices.

That practice, upheld in court, appropriately was dubbed the “Newcomer Tax.”

And then there’s the court-accepted machination of the CLR, the “common level ratio,” used to determine the percent value at which a property is to be taxed.

As Eric Montarti, research director at the Allegheny Institute, reminds, the CLR is required by law to be calculated each year to be used in appeals.

“An appellant can go to an appeals board (not the courts) and argue fair market value and then the CLR is applied without the courts being involved,” he says.

But as Jake Haulk, president-emeritus of the Pittsburgh think tank, has noted, while the use of the CLR might mitigate to some degree the inequities in the reassessment-bereft assessment process, by the time it is employed, it is outdated and, thus, remains patently inequitable and unfair. And, yes, unconstitutional as well.

But let’s get back, yet again, to the crux of this government failure – the lack of regular (preferably every three years) reassessments.

Pols (insert your name here) claim that a new reassessment would be political suicide for those who back it. Additionally, they claim there would be “sticker shock” for those who end up having their taxes raised.

Indeed, some would – for those who haven’t been paying their proper share. But those who have been paying too much – more likely to be those in less well-off communities – would see necessary and proper relief.

All that said, anti-windfall provisions would be triggered to mitigate massive spikes by lowering respective taxing jurisdictions’ millage rates.

The P-G reported that Pittsburgh Public Schools attorney Megan Turnbull told the court previously this month that the change in the common level ratio could have “massive repercussions” for taxing bodies that have already set their budgets for the year.

“She added that there’s a need to craft a ‘fair and equitable’ solution ‘that doesn’t leave every taxing body in the red at the end of the year for reasons that were completely beyond our control.’”

But, and for the umpteenth time (times 10), the only “fair and equitable solution” is to abide by the state Constitution. And that means regular reassessments – and at full value.

Anything less is a nonfeasance of office that, given its repeated occurrences, rapidly has become misfeasance and malfeasance all rolled into one.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).