Notes on the state of things

Notes on the state of things

If this isn’t enough reason for the court system to order Allegheny County to conduct a full property reassessment, we don’t know what is:

Yet another motion has been filed in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court over what calculation of an inequitable value to determine property taxes should be used in assessment appeals hearings.

It’s all about the “common level ratio,” or CLR, used in, as the Post-Gazette’s Mark Belko explains, “appeal hearings to find the taxable value of a property after the fair-market value has been determined.”

Allegheny County has not reassessed properties since a court-ordered reassessment a decade ago. And property taxes have become wholly out of whack. So much so that the system long has violated the Pennsylvania Constitution’s uniform taxation clause.

The state Legislature has the power to order regular reassessments on a statewide basis. It steadfastly refuses to become involved. The respective counties can order reassessments on their own. And some have.

But Allegheny County officials, long playing politics instead of proffering sound public policy, have consistently refused. Which has led to the badly broken system that has invited lawsuit after lawsuit, appeal after appeal and made the property tax system more and more unfair.

And, as we’ve noted before, while we understand that the judiciary’s role is to adjudicate specific matters that come before it, this mess is so broad, so deep and so egregious that the only solution is a total reassessment now.

It’s not merely a matter of fair play. It is a matter of the law.

We almost can predict what’s going to happen here:

As the P-G reports, “The Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority has awarded its first loan as part of a new initiative designed to generate more affordable housing in Downtown.

“URA board members approved a $300,000 allocation last Thursday to Hullett Properties as part of a $13.2 million project to convert the Triangle Building at the corner of Smithfield Street and Liberty Avenue into housing.

“Hullett is planning 15 apartments in all, with three one-bedroom units to be rented to households at or below 50 percent of the area median income.

“The red brick Triangle Building, so named because of its triangular shape, was built in 1866 and expanded in 1884. For decades, the upper floors were used for offices with first floor commercial space.

“This project will restore this historic Triangle Building to its former glory while meeting the current needs of Pittsburgh residents by providing a smaller neighborhood grocer and cafe,” said David DiBernardo, URA residential lending analyst.”

But as Frank Gamrat, executive director of the Allegheny Institute, sees it:

“Here comes the flood of public dollars to ‘save’ Downtown.

“I like the optimism — return the building to its former glory!  What a bunch of nonsense.  They already admitted to the infrastructure being worse than thought.

“I can only imagine what else will be ‘worse than thought’ and how much more taxpayer money will be required,” says Gamrat, a Ph.D. economist.

“These conversions are not financially feasible, especially when you tack on the affordable housing requirements, which they will all have.  Couple this with current high interest rates and these things are money losers, even with public money.”

Other than all that, it’s a great plan, right?

Meanwhile, back at the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA):

It has “filed a request with state regulators to raise rates by nearly 60 percent over the next three years in order to continue funding its infrastructure improvement plans,” the P-G reports.

That’s expected to increase the monthly bill for a typical residential customer by about 20 percent in 2024 (from $86.43 to $103.41), another nearly 20 percent jump, to $123.55, in 2025 and, in 2026, an increase of about 18 percent, to $146.12.

Gee, this makes us long for the days when the mayoralty of Bill Peduto poison-pilled any privatization of the department claiming privatizing would lead to massive price increases.


Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (