Property Tax Increase Enters through the County’s Front Door

After years of extolling the fact that the property tax rate in Allegheny County had remained unchanged from 4.69 mills, the County Executive-elect has put his support behind a proposed 1 mill County tax increase for the 2012 budget year. At the same time, unless something has changed, he remains fully in opposition to a reassessment ordered by the PA Supreme Court and at one point made it clear he was willing to go to jail rather than send out assessment notices.

The opposition was based on the belief that governing bodies-the implication, sometimes clear, sometimes not, was that it was school districts-would take in more tax revenue than permitted without having to take a clear and public vote to increase millage rates. As we pointed out numerous times nearly all of the County’s school districts and a very sizeable portion of the County’s municipalities had indeed raised their millage rates during the time period in which the County felt having a base year was the way to manage the reassessment system. No need to wait for a backdoor increase when a front door one can be enacted.

Now the County is faced with a $50 million deficit that the Executive and many members of Council feel cannot be closed without a tax increase. According to the County’s Home Rule Charter (Article VII, Section 4c) "any ordinance changing the real estate tax rates shall require an affirmative vote of at least two-thirds of the seated members". That plain language-codified in the County’s administrative code at 5-809.2-means it will take 10 members of 15 to enact the change. With 11 of the 15 members sharing the same political affiliation with each other and with the Executive-elect it is a good chance the threshold can be met and attained.

So here is the short tax record in recent years for Allegheny County, perhaps the one that might get more attention if the string of consecutive years without a property tax increase is ended: two new levies (one on alcohol, one on car rentals) begin in 2008; the County begins collecting gaming host fees by virtue of the law that awarded a license to the Rivers Casino in 2010; and now the proposed millage rate increase set to begin in 2012 if enacted. Yet the County does not have enough money to cover its spending needs.