Will State Hear County’s Pleas?

This week the Governor and 31 state legislators have been invited to County Council’s chambers to discuss "PA Assessment Law and the 2012 Court Ordered Allegheny County Reassessment". The topic could more appropriately be titled "Please Act on Our Moratorium Request". Council, by a 13-2 vote, recently passed a resolution asking the General Assembly to pass a bill circumventing the decision of the state Supreme Court that ordered a reassessment based on the uniformity violations in the County’s base year plan.

As we have pointed out before, the serious consequences of a legislative action that would try to nullify a Supreme Court decision cannot be understated. The County Executive and Council members in support of the base year and now the moratorium say they want predictability and stability. However, the status quo is in clear violation of the state Constitution’s uniformity clause.

From the perspective of the Council the upside of the moratorium is that it will give the General Assembly "suitable time to study Pennsylvania’s current property tax system and to enact legislation of uniform, equitable, and statewide effect…" The problem is that one, the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee released such a study in July of 2010 and two, the state has known for a long time with or without studies that the property tax system is outmoded and has acted at the margins (lottery, slot machines, homestead exemptions, etc.) to "solve" the problem.

A sure sign of how seriously legislators from the County take the Council’s request will be reflected by how many show up to the meeting.

How Old are Assessments in PA?

"Although assessment trending can be effective for short periods, properties should be physically reviewed and individually reappraised every four to six years"-International Association of Assessing Officials (IAAO) "Frequency of Reappraisals" from Standard on Mass Appraisal of Real Property, 2008

Sure the IAAO standards are not binding, but certainly could be treated as a best practice or an industry standard for the assessment of property. A reassessment every four to six years: that’s where Allegheny County was headed in the mid part of the past decade, before scrapping the plans to move from tri-annual assessments to annual assessments by 2009. We know what happened: the County tried a base year, it went through the state’s courts and Allegheny County is now within a year of revealing the 2012 reassessments. The current County Executive stated again publicly that he will continue to fight the court’s decision.

How many counties in PA fall outside of the IAAO standard? Again visiting the LBFC study mentioned in previous blogs, the data on the last effective date of County reassessment (a reassessment under state law is either a parcel-by-parcel revaluation or a change in the pre-determined ratio-for instance, valuing property at 75% of market value instead of 60% of market value) shows that seven counties have not done a reassessment since 1986. The counties of Beaver, Blair, Crawford, Forest, Huntington, Washington, and Westmoreland belong in that group, a decidedly central-to-western grouping in terms of geography. Another five did a reassessment somewhere between 1986 and 1989; another 15 in the decade that followed.

That means 41% of Pennsylvania counties have not taken a reassessment action since 2000.

The balance, 39 counties (59%) have taken a reassessment since 2000. Eight counties would fit the IAAO standard as of the report’s publication by meeting the four year window (doing a reassessment since 2006). Philadelphia assesses annually, and we know about Allegheny County; thus, PA’s two largest counties will have updated assessments as of next year.