Restore fairness, predictability to assessments

Restore fairness, predictability to assessments

The Post-Gazette offers an insightful – but hardly surprising – assessment of the fallout from an April 27 consent order instructing Allegheny County to take steps to begin righting its badly listing property tax assessment appeals ship.

Not only will the order lead to possibly thousands of homeowners having their “newcomer tax” spot-assessments on their newly purchased properties reduced but also assessment reductions “for the holders of some of Downtown’s biggest skyscrapers and other pricey commercial real estate” could be in store, the P-G notes.

That, of course, will force taxing bodies – primarily the school districts that entered what we’ll call the “spot-assessing portal” – to refigure their budgets should the reviled reassessments be revised downward.

But the simple matter of fact is that this mess is a double-headed hydra: the school districts were responding to Allegheny County’s refusal to perform regular reassessments – reassessments that would have gone a very long way in keeping in-whack an out-of-whack process.

With the last countywide reassessments a decade ago, the process has become the poster-child for dysfunction – political expediency to avoid what pols say would be political suicide, their own and that of their pals.

Never mind the lack of regular reassessments mean many property holders are paying too little and many property owners are paying too much. Let’s call it what it is – taxing inequity by political design.

Now, these very same pols keep arguing that too many property owners would experience unparalleled “sticker shock” with a general reassessment.

Funny, but there’s no to little mention of those now unfairly paying too much in property taxes or any reassessment’s anti-windfall provision designed to mitigate that much feared “sticker shock.”

Indeed, some – the grossly under-assessed for the last decade – might experience such a shock when a reassessment shows they’ve been skating on others backs. But those over-assessed for the last decade should experience fair relief.

And as we noted last week, it remains incumbent upon state legislators to codify into law regular reassessments for every Pennsylvania county.

For fairness must be restored to an assessment system unacceptably long known for its lack of fairness and a lack of predictably that can only dissuade new residents and business from locating in the commonwealth and tamp down meaningful population and economic growth.

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