BEECHVIEW, September 14, 2011 – State Sen. Wayne D. Fontana announced today that he will re-introduce legislation imposing a moratorium on court-ordered assessments through November 2012, or until the state acts on assessment reforms. A similar bill, passed by the state legislature in June, was vetoed by the Governor because it singled out just one county. The Fontana bill would apply to all court-ordered assessments in the Commonwealth.
“People in nearly every municipality in my Senatorial district have written to me, with the same pleas we have heard from county leaders. They want the system fixed before they are burdened with huge property tax increases,” said Fontana. “A state-wide moratorium on real estate tax assessments will help these communities avoid the tremendous burden that comes with reassessment. There is work being done to protect homeowners and reform the current system by the end of the year. We must allow that work to be completed.”
Just last week, the judge overseeing Allegheny County’s current reassessment was told that preliminary assessment numbers will not be ready until the end of January, with certified numbers being released in April. Although an alternate plan to have new assessment numbers released for the City of Pittsburgh and the Borough of Mt. Oliver is being considered to aid those areas in preparing their spending plans, the other municipalities and school districts in the county would be left out.
“Our state constitution insists upon uniformity in property assessments, yet the mandate on Allegheny County creates inequities instead,” Fontana argued. “Twenty-two counties have not completed inspection of properties since at least the mid-1980s. The counties differ in their property markets and assessment systems. Furthermore, the Supreme Court has ruled as recently as 2009 that the base year system is increasingly inaccurate and at some point will become unconstitutionally non-uniform. Why are we continuing down this road?”
In Allegheny County, municipalities have seen residents leave the area and move to neighboring counties which have lower real estate values and costs of living. They are driven away by the use of a base year system that may go back as far as the 1970s.
A number of entities have made recommendations over the past decade in regards to reforming the assessment system. Just last year, the Legislative Budget & Finance Committee made recommendations to enhance the current system and also provide options to the legislature for major changes to the system. The House of Representatives currently has more than one task force developing uniform standards for reassessment contracts; a self-evaluation tool for counties to determine when a reassessment is warranted; and criteria and procedures for data submission, verification, and collection.
“A moratorium would avoid the negative effects of reassessment without a uniform, state-wide system while allowing the General Assembly the opportunity to address the deficiencies in the current system,” noted Fontana.
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