Brookline, January 10, 2011 — Citing the current reassessment process in Allegheny County as “unworkable, burdensome, expensive and inaccurate,” state Senator Wayne D. Fontana today asked county Judge R. Stanton Wettick, Jr. to delay its implementation.

In his letter to Judge Wettick, Fontana urged him to delay implementation until the General Assembly can craft a statewide solution. In the meantime, Fontana said he is writing legislation that would change Pennsylvania’s flawed reassessment system to one that is uniform, fair, and predictable.

“It has often been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” Fontana said.  “That statement perfectly explains the ongoing, court-ordered, reassessment fiasco taking place in Allegheny County.

“Requiring court-ordered reassessments in Allegheny County while other counties across the state have gone decades without a reassessment is unfair to Allegheny County property owners. Once this reassessment is over, what is the next step?  The court has not indicated what will happen next year or anytime in the near future.  It is time for the General Assembly to end this ‘Groundhog Day’ scenario and fix the reassessment system in Pennsylvania.”

Fontana is calling on the General Assembly to support his bill, Senate Bill 1280, which would place a moratorium on all court-ordered property reassessments until the legislature can overhaul the current system or implement an alternative method for local governments and school districts to generate revenue.

The Brookline Democrat cited three possible alternatives to the current property assessment process:

  • The first would simply adjust the current assessment process to allow local governments to continue to use a base year system and adjust their base year on a defined time schedule.  For example, a 2002 base year could be adjusted one year every three years beginning in 2012.  Price indicators for each neighborhood and municipality could be used to adjust real estate values.  The appeals process would remain in place to address any inequities.
  • The second alternative would eliminate homeowner property taxes and allow counties, municipalities and school districts to shift to a sales and/or income tax.  This option would require a change in Pennsylvania’s constitution.  Fontana said the concept of tax shifting has been debated in Harrisburg for many years and is worthy of serious consideration.
  • The third option would prohibit the use of assessed values in taxing real estate and instead use a model that taxes the 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.  There would be no assessment process necessary.

“Of course, the details of any of these options need to be discussed and debated, but any of these are more uniform, predictable and certainly fairer than the current court-ordered reassessment taking place in Allegheny County,” Fontana said “It’s time for the General Assembly to step up and address this issue.”


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EDITOR’S NOTE: Following is the text of the senator’s letter to Judge Wettick.

Dear Judge Wettick:

I respectfully urge you to delay the Allegheny County reassessment.  As you have rightly indicated in the past, it is the responsibility of the General Assembly to create and enact a uniform system across the Commonwealth that funds local and county governments and school districts.  I am committed to working with my colleagues in the General Assembly to address this issue. A further delay in the implementation of these numbers will allow us additional time to work on a solution without hurting Allegheny County taxpayers.

If this reassessment is forced on the taxpayers of Allegheny County now, without a long-term solution, the only effect it has is starting the unfairness and inequities all over again.  Adjusting the base year basis on a scheduled time frame or using total square footage of land and building are a couple of possible solutions to be considered.  Any solution should be easy to understand, reasonable to implement and uniform across the Commonwealth.

I appreciate your attention in this urgent matter and am available anytime to discuss.


Wayne D. Fontana
State Senator, 42nd Senatorial District