Recall that near the end of 2012 County Council held a hearing on the tax-exempt status of UPMC even though, under County law, that is not the Council’s job and soon after it was declared that the Office of Property Assessments would begin doing what it was supposed to do under the 2007 ordinance. Under a three year time frame as set out by that ordinance this would be the third time that the County would have a handle on whether tax exemptions granted to charitable organizations would be justified-instead, since the process fell by the wayside, just about two-thirds of the County’s charitable organizations have responded to a letter from the County on the issue.
Some have asked for an extension. The County’s solicitor noted "…If we got a good faith request, we gave them more time." And why shouldn’t they? To reiterate, Council passed the ordinance calling for the review once every three years in 2007. When the condition of the County’s tax-exempt files and the failure to do the scheduled review was revealed the only answer was that things "fell through the cracks". What is the County going to say to non-profits taking their time? Hurry up and get things done?
For years and, most recently, over the months leading up to the mailing of court ordered reassessments to Allegheny County property owners, the Allegheny Institute has urged the Assessment Office to include information on the new assessment notice that would show the owner how his/her assessment change compares to the average for the County, school district and municipality. With that information the property owner would know immediately whether tax bills for the property were about to rise, stay the same or go down, assuming the taxing bodies all rolled back millage rates to eliminate any revenue windfall resulting from the reassessment.
The Assessment Office has taken a partial step toward providing property owners the information the Institute has been recommending. The Office has created a link on its web site in the "What Do You Want to Know" section that enables property owners to look up the increase in assessment values for their municipality and school district and offers the owners guidance as to how to figure out if their County, school district and municipal tax bills are going up, down or staying the same.
This is a major breakthrough given the County’s antipathy toward the reassessment. Of course, the County is not advertising this feature heavily and taxpayers who are not aggressive in searching the Assessment Office web site will not know about the link, especially since it is buried in the menu options on the "What Do You Want to Know" page. The County should be touting the feature heavily and making it far more prominent on the web site. And it should be making preparations to put all the necessary information on future assessment notices.