Having already butted heads over property office administration, weights & measures stickers and other issues, county exec Rich Fitzgerald and controller Chelsa Wagner are today fighting over the county's property tax rate. Wagner says it's too high and the county could get an illicit windfall, and Fitz responded by essentially saying the fiscal watchdog isn't good at arithmetic and/or budgeting.
Mr. Fitzgerald said he is "very confident" budget numbers developed by his staff are as accurate as they can be with many commercial property assessment appeals still pending.
Ms. Wagner this morning called for a 0.5 mill reduction in the tax rate to avoid receiving a windfall as a result of new property assessments.
"We could have waited for two years until until everything is done but we have to budget now," Mr. Fitzgerald said. "We feel very confident the numbers we are using are correct."
If reductions as a result of assessment appeals are lower than his staff projects, Mr. Fitzgerald said, he will make changes as necessary in the 2014 budget.
Ms. Wagner said the county could be receiving as much as $38 million more than it should unless the tax rate is adjusted. Allegheny County Council, on Mr. Fitzgerald's advice, reduced the millage last month from 5.69 mills to 4.73 mills.
But Ms. Wagner said that isn't low enough.
In a press conference at the Allegheny County Courthouse, Ms. Wagner said the county's reduction should have reduced the rate to 4.23 mills to comply with state law that prohibits a windfall after new assessments.
She said she expected Mr. Fitzgerald to make that recommendation when he spoke to county council Tuesday, but when he didn't, she decided to go public with her concerns.
Ms. Wagner said the executive and council took "basically a shot in the dark" by setting the millage before final certified assessment results were released. Now that those numbers are available, she said, the millage should be reduced again.
"This really should not be difficult math," she said.
Graphic: Scared squirrel. Gawker/Reddit