Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald said it over and over again during a news conference Thursday afternoon: When it comes to property tax reassessment, Allegheny County shouldn’t be singled out.
That’s one reason Fitzgerald said he directed the certification of the 2011 assessed values for 2012 taxation purposes—values that are based on the 2002 tax year.
For county property owners, that means the assessment numbers they received in the mail last week are “null and void.”
Fitzgerald said new notices would be sent out Thursday, and those are “the ones that matter.”
He was clear: Despite a court order mandating a property tax reassessment, he is following all state laws.
“Earlier this week, I took an oath to uphold the laws of the commonwealth. The Second Class County Assessment Law and our own administrative code requires that certified assessed values be provided to taxing bodies on or before Jan. 15,” Fitzgerald said. “Certification reports were sent out this afternoon to all taxing bodies that will now allow officials to set their tax millage rates, if they have not done so already, and to move forward with their tax billings.”
Characterizing the court-ordered assessment as “chaotic and disastrous,” he indicated that when he had the opportunity to review the numbers, they disturbed him.
“We’ve all seen the stories about the large numbers, substantial increases and shocking values from just the 119,000 residential properties. This is the first update of values in a decade, and the increases are simply terrifying to some property owners. Imagine what the rest of the county may look like if we continue down this road,” Fitzgerald said.
Local boards, including directors of the Quaker Valley School Board, and members of the Sewickley, Leetsdale and Bell Acres councils, have raised concerns about the reassessments and the local impact they would have.
Sewickley Solicitor Richard Tucker said at last month's council meeting that some municipalities were even considering filing lawsuits.
With city, school, county and state officials flanking him, Fitzgerald said he urged all taxing bodies to support a moratorium on the court-ordered assessment.
“We cannot continue to allow Allegheny County to be singled out while counties around us have gone for decades without a reassessment. The stability that we have brought to (the county) over the last decade has shown results, and we cannot allow that progress to be jeopardized through a discriminatory practice.”
He said the largest school district in the county, the Pittsburgh Public School District, has joined him in asking the court to stop the reassessment. Letters are being sent to all 130 municipalities and the other 44 school districts in the county asking them to pass resolutions asking the courts to stop the assessment.
Another letter calls on Gov. Tom Corbett and the state Legislature to impose a moratorium on “singled-out, court-ordered county reassessments until this is addressed on a state level.”
He then asked all those in attendance to support a House bill that state Rep. Jesse White and state Rep. Rick Saccone wrote, which calls for a moratorium on property tax reassessment, as well as a similar measure in the state Senate.
Fitzgerald said he worried that if an assessment is forced, residents and businesses would “migrate” to surrounding counties—setting back economic development gains Allegheny County has made over the years.
“I hope that residents of this county will also join us in this effort. Go to your school board meeting. Talk to your elected officials. Reach out to your representatives, senators and governor, and let them all know that these steps are important to you and that the court-ordered reassessment cannot be allowed to continue to the detriment of this county.”
Reached after the news conference, White said he agreed with Fitzgerald’s reasoning.
“There is a problem with the process,” he said. “No one should be doing a reassessment until the system is fixed.”