Wagner Urges Taxpayers 'Watch Out For Windfalls'

Mar 20, 2013

Most of the attention and criticism of the property tax system over the past year has been about the reassessments of more than a half million properties in Allegheny County.

"The law is very clear," said County Controller Chelsa Wagner, "specifically in Allegheny County you cannot have any windfall. That doesn't mean 1 percent, that doesn't mean 5 percent, that means zero."

Wagner said the county and the state legislature have not enforced anti-windfall laws, so it's up to taxpayers to take the initiative. Under state law, following a reassessment, if total property values increase in a county or municipality, then the millage rate must be lowered to result in a zero gain in total tax revenues.

Wagner has initiated the "My Windfall Watch" program on the controller's website to help monitor whether taxing bodies — the county and municipalities — are in compliance with anti-windfall laws.

"It's crystal clear that our rate in Allegheny County should be lowered; it still hasn't been done," Wagner said. "This continues to be a problem and really needs transparency."

Wagner believes the county's tax rate is one half mill too high.  

"On average (the county is) charging a homeowner an extra $50 in county taxes than they really should be paying," she said.

The county certified values in mid-December so some taxing bodies could send out their bills, but the county's millage rate has not been lowered because some assessment appeals still haven't been decided.

The Windfall Watch site includes tables outlining millage rates for 2012 and 2013 compared with total Certified Assessed Value for the same years for Allegheny County and all of its 130 municipalities. The majority of the county’s 43 school districts set their millage rates based on a July 1 fiscal year.

As information becomes available for school districts, their millage rates and changes in assessed value will be added to the site.