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Pittsburgh Public Schools to proceed with effort to compel a countywide property reassessment 

A doormat reading Pittsburgh Public Schools.
Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh Public Schools is urging Allegheny County to immediately conduct a countywide property reassessment, or face legal action.

School board members voted unanimously Wednesday to authorize that potential step. That vote comes as a number of Downtown office buildings have sought, and won, lower tax assessments in the wake of both coronavirus-driven vacancies and court-mandated changes to how properties are valued.

Between 10 reassessment reductions granted this year, downtown real estate values have plunged by $448 million alone. According to district officials, those lowered assessments could force the public school system to hand back as much as $20 million in revenue in the coming months.

More could come: Allegheny County property owners have until March 31 to file assessment appeals for the 2024 tax year. Speaking to WESA last week, PPS solicitor Ira Weiss called it an “assessment crisis.”

After Wednesday’s vote, Weiss said he would first deliver a letter to the county that asks them to voluntarily conduct a reassessment. He added that, while the district doesn’t have a deadline established yet, if County Executive Sara Innamorato does not respond in a timely manner, the district will proceed in the Court of Common Pleas.

When reached for comment, county spokesperson Abigail Gardner said officials “recognize this is a priority,” and are working quickly to make a decision on whether to order a reassessment.

Innamorato pledged during her campaign to undertake a countywide reassessment, citing a need to address inequities in the current system. She later stepped back from that promise, however, stating that she would consider a reassessment if a broader look at tax policy necessitated it.

“We are working to gather all the relevant data about the state of assessments in the county and engage stakeholders at the state and municipal level to create a more thoughtful and consistent approach,” Gardner said in a statement.

Gardner added that countywide reassessments should be a regular process, though she added that they should be “revenue-neutral.”

“And we need everyone to recognize that the way we’ve done reassessments has been broken for a long time,” she said. “Delaying what should be a regular and revenue-neutral process into something that is avoided for a decade and then shocks the system may have massive unintended consequences for vulnerable neighbors.”

Gardner said that the county, as a taxing body, was well situated in the face of appeals, having projected the appeals and set aside revenue accordingly.

Jillian Forstadt is an education reporter at 90.5 WESA. Before moving to Pittsburgh, she covered affordable housing, homelessness and rural health care at WSKG Public Radio in Binghamton, New York. Her reporting has appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition.