All the informal Pittsburgh property reassessment hearings you've been hearing about? Don't worry about them, new county exec Rich Fitzgerald announced this afternoon. He's issuing property owners the same values issued last year, which for the most part are based on 2002 values.
So if you were due a tax decrease -- because your home was overvalued, which was the basis for the suit forcing the reassessment in the first place -- you're out of luck and will be paying the tax collector more. If the out of date assessments work in your favor -- and they must for a lot of people, since Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and two dozen other local politicos stood by Fitzgerald at his presser -- it's time to pop the champagne corks. At least until Judge Stanton Wettick makes the next move.
New Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced this afternoon he will not use new court-ordered property assessment numbers.
That means Pittsburgh property owners can ignore the new assessment notices they received last month, Mr. Fitzgerald said at a news conference this afternoon.
The county instead has certified the use of the 2002 values for this year, Mr. Fitzgerald said, and will continue to push for a statewide assessment system that he thinks would be more fair.
His action appears to defy a court order from Judge R. Stanton Wettick Jr., who ordered the reassessment. Asked if he was worried about going to jail for defying a court order, Mr. Fitzgerald said he believes he is following state law.
"What I'm worried about is taxpayers losing their homes," he said.
Mr. Fitzgerald was surrounded by two dozen Pittsburgh, county and state leaders -- Democrats and Republicans -- when he made the announcement.
Like his predecessor, Dan Onorato, Mr. Fitzgerald said it is unfair that counties surrounding Allegheny haven't reassessed property in decades.
Mr. Fitzgerald said his action would meet the state requirement that the county certify and send out to taxing bodies all assessment numbers by Jan. 15. Because the assessment has not yet been completed -- only Pittsburgh and Mount Oliver residents have received certified numbers thus far -- he concluded that the 2002 numbers should continue to be used.
All informal hearings on new assessment numbers are ending, he said. People who are scheduled for hearings on their new assessment numbers need not show up for those hearings, he said.
Fitzgerald and others say they want a statewide solution. Which should be no problem -- just look at how easy it was for legislators to approve (/sarcasm) Marcellus Shale fees, school vouchers and liquor privatization last year, not to mention funding assistance for the state's 5,000 structurally deficient bridges.
It's also worth repeating that Allegheny County's legislators are so worried about taxpayers "losing their homes" that they gave them a 21 percent tax increase this year.
State Sen. Wayne Fontana is among those applauding Fitzgerald's sure-to-be-challenged move:
“I was proud to stand with the County Executive today as he announced the certification of assessed values based on the 2002 tax year. Our residents and elected officials have gone through months of uncertainty as they wait to see what the Court orders next. With County Executive Fitzgerald’s action, there is finally some resolution that allows local taxing bodies to set their millage and move forward with their tax billings.
“I was also pleased to hear the County Executive call for both a short-term and long-term solution from the state General Assembly. Last year, I introduced Senate Bill 1280, which calls for a moratorium on court-ordered reassessments until such time that we enact legislation that makes the system uniform for all counties. I look forward to working with my colleagues in both chambers to move this and other pieces of legislation forward to make the system fair and equitable for all property owners.”