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Allegheny County’s Property Tax Hike Might Not Be Legal

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(Credit: KDKA)

(Credit: KDKA)

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — If you own any property in Allegheny County, taxes are going up.

By a vote of 11-4, the Democratic members of Allegheny County Council pushed through a $784 million budget, saying a tax hike was necessary to avoid deep cuts in human services and community college caused by recent state and federal budget cuts.

“This budget is $37 million short from last year. To raise the millage, we’re only getting back to the starting line,” says County Councilman Nick Futules of the 7th District.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” says Debbie Shimkets of Beechview. “All of our paychecks are going nowhere but everything goes up. There’s just no money left anymore.”

And it’s not just a little increase. It’s a 21percent tax hike, approved overwhelmingly by county council Tuesday night.

Effective January 1st, millage goes up from 4.69 mills to 5.69 mills. That means a $100 county tax hike for every $100,000 of assessed property you own.

“The economy’s in bad shape. I think they should have waited a little bit and got some better heads together,” says Frank Rozzo of Brookline.

Eric Montarti of the Allegheny Institute says the fact that outgoing executive Dan Onorato proposed a no-tax increase balanced budget proves council could have tried harder to avoid tax hikes.

“There’s always a choice. There’s always a way to try to find a way — go through the departments and take five percent off each department. Tell them to find savings. Tell them to find where the waste is,” Montarti told KDKA Political Editor Jon Delano.

This 21 percent increase in property taxes affects not only every homeowner in the area but businesses as well, and it may not be the end of these tax increases.

“I’m very upset about it because attached to that is also an assessment raise,” says Rosalie Gierczynski of Dormont. “So you’re double taxing, not only with the tax increase but also with the assessment increase, so I think we really didn’t get a good deal.”

But the one mill hike in county property taxes comes just when the county is under a court order to reassess all property.

Analysts for the Allegheny Institute say Allegheny County cannot increase taxes by 21 percent because the county is in the middle of a reassessment process. They say such an increase violates state law.

“There was a law passed in 2005 that said in counties of the second class, which Allegheny County, is the county and all its political subdivisions when there’s a reassessment you need to roll their millage rate back to be revenue neutral,” says Montarti.

Delano: “Zero?”

Montarti: “Zero. Meaning if you brought in $200 million in 2011 and you have a reassessment in 2012, you have to be revenue neutral.”

With the tax hike, the 2012 budget is hardly revenue neutral, but council’s solicitor said reassessment is not yet a done deal so the law is not violated.
The Allegheny Institute calls that disingenuous.

“If they’re going to say we’re just pretending there is no reassessment, assessment notices are going out to property owners in the city of Pittsburgh and Mt. Oliver in less than two weeks, so they know something is coming.”

Which may mean this tax hike could end up in court with a judge deciding whether it is legal or not.

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