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County Controller: Reassessments Significantly Different in Appeals

Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner has found what she believes to be a discrepancy in tax reassessment breaks between commercial and residential properties.

The controller’s office released information Monday showing commercial properties are receiving significantly bigger tax reassessment breaks than homeowners.

Wagner said there seems to be an inconsistency between how commercial properties were reduced and how residential properties were reduced at the assessment hearings.

The 140,000 appeals made by homeowners resulted in an average reduction of $12,689, or 8.7 percent.

By contrast, 19,422 commercial properties filed appeals and saw an average reduction of $259,890, or 21 percent.

“When you look at this data, it’s hard to come to a conclusion other than thinking that residential homeowners bear a burden that businesses do not,” Wagner said.

Wagner said commercial properties are reassessed by how much income is being generated within the property while the reassessment values on residential properties are calculated by an analysis of what a buyer is willing to pay for the house.

Wagner said a court ordered this reassessment — the first since 2002 — because several property owners in lower income areas said their taxes should have been going down.

The controller’s office also released a list of the Top 30 reductions, all commercial properties.

UPMC Passavant in McCandless topped the list with its reassessment reduced from $158 million to $27 million.

Wagner said it’s hard to explain how an outlier could exist in data like this.

“I think those kind of examples beg the question as to the validity of the reassessment in the first place,” Wagner said. “How could the data have been so poor that you see a reduction that’s so, so significant.”

Wagner also added preliminary information on millage rates and assessed value changes on the “Windfall Watch” portion of her website.

She said she wants to make sure people know that they can appeal their assessment every year. It doesn’t just have to happen when there is a reassessment.

“I hear everyday from people who are really concerned about the reassessment process and I think at the very least that it is on this administration and on the Office of Property Assessment to make sure the public has more information,” Wagner said.

Jess is from Elizabeth Borough, PA and is a junior at Duquesne University with a double major in journalism and public relations. She was named as a fellow in the WESA newsroom in May 2013.