In last week's News & Views, I asked for your thoughts on three alternatives I proposed to the current property assessment system. Thank you to everyone that weighed in with their opinions. The majority of respondents believe the best choice is to eliminate property taxes and allow local governments and school districts to shift to a sales and/or income tax. While I feel this alternative is better than the current system, of the three options I presented, this would be the most difficult to achieve.
First, elected officials in counties where reassessments are not an issue would be hesitant to support a tax shift. Even if support existed for this tax shift among a majority of the General Assembly, creating a statewide system where we shift property taxes to a sales or income tax would require an amendment to the state constitution. The proposed amendment would need to pass both chambers of the General Assembly by a majority vote in two consecutive legislative sessions. After the first passage of the bill, it must be published in two newspapers three months before an election. If the bill passes the second session, it would be published again before being placed on the ballot in the form of a statewide referendum. If passed by the majority of voters, it then becomes an amendment to the constitution.
The second choice among respondents was to switch to a model that taxes property based on square footage. Under this system, each taxing body would determine the total square footage of all taxable property within its jurisdiction and divide that number into total real estate tax collections for the previous year to establish a rate per square foot. The amount of taxes per property owner would be determined by the combined size of the lot and home or building. This would eliminate the assessment process.
The need for a statewide solution to reassessments is obvious and the square footage model is a workable solution, but unfortunately, the Governor and Republican leadership have not indicated they support any statewide solution. They represent the majority party in Harrisburg and control the agenda. As the General Assembly reconvenes in Harrisburg this week, I will be speaking with my colleagues about the issue of property reassessments so we can begin charting a course on how best to move forward so we can solve this problem once and for all.
Update on Allegheny County Reassessments
Last Thursday, Judge R. Stanton Wettick, Jr. approved requests to delay the use of reassessed property values until 2013. This means if you are a property owner in Allegheny County, your 2012 property taxes will again be based on 2002 assessed values. I wrote Judge Wettick last week and respectfully asked him to delay implementation of the reassessed values and am thankful for his decision.
Any city of Pittsburgh or Mt. Oliver property owner that wishes to appeal their reassessed property values can still do so. The new, court-ordered deadline to request a formal appeal of 2012 reassessed property values is February 24th. You can print a request form from the Allegheny County website or call 412-350-4600 to schedule your formal appeal. The Court has not indicated if any appeals on the 2012 reassessed values will be heard in the future, so if you wish to appeal your 2012 reassessed values, you should file your appeal by February 24th. You can also appeal your 2002 base year assessment and have until April 2nd to file that appeal.
Property owners in the rest of the County should begin receiving their reassessed values in the near future. The deadline to file formal appeals for property owners that do not reside in the city of Pittsburgh or Mt. Oliver has not yet been announced. The Court has also not ruled on whether informal appeals will be heard again and has not ruled on the status of those informal appeals that have already been heard. I will share information with you on these matters once they are announced.
If you need assistance with filing an appeal, or need assistance with any other state issue, my staff is always ready, willing and able to assist you.
As the 2012 legislative session begins, many important issues will be before the General Assembly and I want to remind constituents of the ways you can stay connected.
In addition to my weekly News & Views, you can visit my newly revamped website, www.senatorfontana.com, to view news releases, watch Senate session live, research legislation and more. The website also allows you to download applications and forms, provides toll-free numbers to a variety of departments and agencies and contains my contact information and location of my district offices. You are
always able to discuss legislative issues and express opinions on matters before the General Assembly by
contacting one of the offices or by emailing me directly at Fontana@pasenate.com. Anyone that does not currently receive my News & Views can sign-up on my website by submitting their email address. I also can be followed on Twitter at www.twitter.com/WayneDFontana.
If you need assistance on a state matter, you can visit or call any one of my offices to receive full-service on a variety of items including: notary services; PennDOT issues; unclaimed property forms; tax forms; senior bus passes; and more.
Most importantly, I want you to know that I and my staff are always available to assist you. Since my election in 2005 we have always made sure that any constituent who comes to us has their problem solved and if we can’t solve the problem directly, we at least provide direction to get a solution.
SBDC Outreach Day
As a reminder, Wednesday, January 25th is this year’s first Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Outreach Day. This is a free service that allows entrepreneurs to get help starting a small business or improving an existing business. SBDC Client Services Liaison John Dobransky will once again be at my Kennedy Office (Kenmawr Plaza) to provide assistance between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. You may schedule an appointment with John by calling 412-624-2290. Appointments are not required but are encouraged. New and returning clients are welcome.
Did You Know…
Since its inception, the Pennsylvania Small Business Development Centers have provided over 2.5 million hours of consulting to more than 216,000 entrepreneurs and offered over 14,000 courses, workshops and seminars attended by 334,000 Pennsylvanians.
The United Way of Allegheny County, IRS, Money in Your Pocket Coalition and PNC Bank are hosting Family Tax Day to celebrate the IRS-designated Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) Awareness Day on Saturday, January 28th at the United Way’s Strip District offices at 1250 Penn Avenue.
Volunteers from local IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance sites will be on hand to offer free state and federal income tax preparation services to income-eligible Allegheny County residents. Families with incomes up to $40,000 and individuals with incomes up to $20,000 are eligible to receive tax preparation assistance. PNC staff will also be offering taxpayers without traditional bank accounts the option of having their federal refund deposited into a very low-fee debit card account or receiving a check-cashing letter that will allow them to get their refund checks cashed for free at select PNC Bank locations.
These services are free but an appointment is required and all taxpayers must have all W2 forms and tax documents. For more information, or to schedule an appointment, call 2-1-1 or 412-255-1155. More information on additional Money in Your Pocket tax sites can be found at www.pghfreetaxes.org.
DCNR Open Grant Announcement
The Department of Conservation and Natural Resrouces (DCNR) is accepting grant applications through April 4th through its Community Conservation Partnership Programs. Grant assistance from DCNR helps communities and organizations plan, acquire, and develop recreation, park, and trail facilities and conserve open space. The Bureau of Recreation and Conservation administers the Community Conservation Partnerships Program which combines several state and federal funding sources into one grant program. The 2012 DCNR grant program will focus on making grant awards that enhance the Commonwealth’s recreation and conservation infrastructure.
All applications must be submitted electronically through the Environmental eGrants System and will be accepted through April 4th. All grant information, project guidance documents, program policies and application instructions are available on the site. For assistance with the Environmental eGrants System, please call DCNR’s Grants Customer Service Center at 1-800-326-7734 or email DCNR-Grants@state.pa.us.
Specific priorities for grant proposals include: the rehabilitation of existing park and recreation facilities through the incorporation of green principles; trail projects that close gaps in major statewide greenways and regionally sufficient trails; implementation of Rivers Conservation Plans including enhancing water trails and improving public river access; planning to help park and recreation facilities become greener; land conservation for critical habitat, key connectors, expansion of existing park and recreation areas and the establishment of new community parks; and projects identified by regional partnerships including Conservation Landscape Initiatives, Heritage Areas, and statewide significant greenways.
Grants for Small Construction Companies
Small construction companies can improve air quality, protect public health and increase the efficiency of diesel-powered construction equipment by applying for a grant through the Small Construction Contractor Retrofit Fund. The grants will assist companies with the cost of retrofitting, repowering or rebuilding diesel-powered equipment. Grants ranging from $10,000 to $100,000 will be available for approximately 16 to 30 diesel emission reduction projects for companies operating in the City of Pittsburgh or Allegheny County. Applications are due February 15, 2012.
The Fund is sponsored by the Allegheny County Health Department and the Heinz Endowments, and managed by the Mid-Atlantic Regional Air Management Association (MARAMA). The Association will conduct a webinar tomorrow, January 18th, from 1 to 2 p.m. to provide information and guidance on diesel retrofitting and explain how to apply for a grant. To participate in the webinar or to apply, visit the MARAMA website, or contact Alaina Conner of the Health Department at 412-578-8106.
URA Home Improvement Loan Programs
As the City of Pittsburgh’s economic development agency, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) works to improve the vitality of businesses and neighborhoods in Pittsburgh. Many people may not know that the URA offers several programs to help homeowners renovate and repair their homes, including low-income families.
The URA recently introduced a new home improvement product called the Keystone Renovation & Repair Program. The program allows families with a household income as high as $98,550 to borrow up to $35,000 with little or no equity to improve their home. The URA acts as a Program Administrator for this PA Housing Finance Agency program.
The Pittsburgh Home Rehabilitation Program offers a 0% interest rate for 1-6 person households with a maximum household income of $59,400 (for six person households). It is one of the most affordable programs in Pittsburgh. Another program, the Home Improvement Loan Program, has a 5.99% interest rate with no equity requirements. Income limits range from $64,000 to $73,600 for select neighborhoods. For more information and to get applications for these programs and more, visit the URA website.
Judges & Volunteers Needed
The Pittsburgh Technology Council is looking for volunteers and science fair judges for the 2012 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). ISSF is the world largest pre-college science competition and is scheduled for May 13-18 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. This competition brings 1,600 students in grades 9-12 from 65 countries, regions and territories.
The Fair needs volunteers to assist with many aspects of the event including translation and logistics. The Fair also needs 1,000 judges in 17 categories focusing on science and engineering. Judges are required to have a B.A., B.S. or a master’s degree with a minimum of six years related professional experience or a Ph.D. or M.D.
If you are interested in registering as a volunteer or a judge, or to read more about the Fair, you can visit http://www.societyforscience.org/intelisef2012.
Discover Pennsylvania’s Fly-Fishing Heritage
If you are a fly-fishing enthusiast, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission is hosting a fly-fishing program on January 30th. The program will feature an opportunity to meet and hear from Pennsylvania’s fly-fishing tradition leaders and experience world-class fly tiers in action as they show fly patterns made famous on Pennsylvania waters. The program will run from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at the agency’s Harrisburg headquarters on Elmerton Avenue. You can register for the event here or contact Ted Walke at 717-705-7813 for more information.
The United Way of Allegheny County and Money in Your Pocket Coalition has free tax preparation services at 17 partner sites throughout Allegheny County. To find a location near you, visit http://www.pghfreetaxes.org/partnersites.php.
Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana