Penn Hills Will Test Assessment Law

A newspaper article this morning indicated that Penn Hills-the second largest municipality in Allegheny County-plans to pass a 0.5 mill increase in its property tax rate for the 2012 fiscal year. According to the Treasurer’s website, Penn Hills’ millage is currently 5.35 mills. Raising it 0.5 to 5.85 mills would constitute a 9% boost in the millage rate.

From another article, this one about the new assessment mailings that will go out to Pittsburgh and Mt. Oliver (the two communities that make up the Pittsburgh Public School District) on December 19th: "State law provides two protections for property owners following a reassessment. An anti-windfall provision requires municipalities to readjust their millage rates to reflect changes in overall property values. The hoped-for result will be to keep the total amount collected through real estate taxes before and after reassessment ‘revenue neutral.’ Elected officials, however, can vote separately to raise tax collections by up to 5 percent following reassessment. Amounts higher than 5 percent would have to be approved by a judge."

The state law in question is Act 71 of 2005, which is going to get a lot of attention in the coming weeks and months as the assessment moves forward. This is especially true of County Council’s planned 1 mill increase (21%). Previously Allegheny County and taxing bodies in the County could take 105% of the previous year’s revenue through a reassessment windfall. Now that percentage would have to be arrived at in a two step process. Anything above that requires court approval.

Library Referenda: A Condensed History

Proponents of finding additional funding for the Carnegie Libraries within the City of Pittsburgh’s borders want to place a question on the November ballot asking voters in the City to approve a 0.25 property tax increase.

Will the measure pass if placed in front of the voters? Informal data collected by the state Department of Education’s Office of Commonwealth Libraries shows that about half of the recent library tax questions were approved in recent years. Going back to 2001 the data shows eleven referendum questions posed around the state. Five questions were approved, six were voted down. Two of those approvals came in North Apollo Township (Armstrong County); first a levy was approved and then voters opted to retain the tax four years later.

The proposed property tax millage increase for funding libraries ranged from 0.10 mill in Robinson Township (Allegheny County) to 1.5 mills in Chester City (Delaware County). Two countywide referendum proposals (Perry County in 2002 and Pike County in 2009) were defeated. Two questions in the western suburbs of Allegheny County that both went on the ballot in 2003 went in opposite directions: the aforementioned Robinson approved, Moon Township rejected theirs.

If the question does get on the ballot in the City both proponents and opponents can make their respective cases known. According to the 2009 annual report of the Carnegie Library system, its biggest source of revenue is the Regional Asset District sales tax ($17.6 million) followed by the Commonwealth ($5.9 million). The City of Pittsburgh provided $74,000 that year. Both the RAD and state contribution were up compared to 1998’s financial report, but the City’s contribution was down. So one the one hand there could be an argument that the City needs to give more while on the other hand there could be a case made that there is sufficient public sources invested in the libraries.