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Allegheny County sheepishly raises homestead exclusion limit

Published by Andrew McGill on .

The Never-Ending Oops continued Tuesday night, as Allegheny County council voted to raise the homestead/farmstead exclusion rates in light of -- you guessed it -- complications due to property tax reassessment.

Homestead/farmstead exclusion (here, let me save you a Google search) lets property owners lop off a few thousand dollars from the tax assessment of their primary residence or farm. For years, the discount in Allegheny County has been $15,000.

Not anymore. County lawyers realized that state law required council to raise the discount after a reassessment, sort of like how it's required to lower the tax rate to prevent windfall revenue. Tuesday, council bumped the exemption up to $18,000, keeping the average savings per resident at around $85.

Hiccup No. 2: The county tax bills have already been printed. So council voted to push back the mailing of the bills by 30 days to allow time for a do-over.

County Controller Chelsa Wagner's staff must have been chortling: After already criticizing council and County Executive Rich Fitzgerald for potentially reaping a windfall from too-high taxes, they surely noted the extra revenue from the homestead exclusion mistake would have put the budget another few million bucks beyond bursting.

But they played it cool, putting out a (6:50 p.m.) press release that lauded council while expressing reservations.

"While I appreciate that County Council made some effort tonight, this still does not adequately address the windfall problem," Ms. Wagner wrote. "There remains a lack of transparency, and I continue to be very concerned about the haphazard manner in which the County makes major fiscal decisions. This is not good math and it is certainly not good government.”

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