USC lowers millage rate again

Published Mar 5, 2013 at 9:36 am (Updated Mar 5, 2013 at 9:36 am)

Upper St. Clair Township Commissioners lowered the real estate tax millage rate for 2013 again on March 4 as a result of the recent Allegheny County reassessment.

On Dec. 3, commissioners adopted a $18.8 million budget for 2013, which lowered the real estate tax rate from 4.6 mills to 3.9 mills due to the Allegheny County reassessment.

August Stache, finance director for the township, said the township is required to adjust their millage rate downward if the total value of property is significantly higher after reassessment, so as to prevent a windfall for the municipalities.

He told commissioners in December that the adopted millage rate might have to be altered in early 2013 depending on the final reassessment figures.

On March 4, Stache came before the commissioners asking that the millage rate be lowered again, to 3.83 mills.

Stache said the 2013 budget was passed on Dec. 3 based on a preliminary assessment figure of $1,990,353,401 in assessed property values. He said a final assessment figure from the county which was dated Dec. 21 indicates $2,030,049,782.

Russell Del Re, vice president of the commissioners, asked if there was an issue with losing tax revenue if they set a rate that is too low.

Stache said that was true, but “the mystery is it’s always a moving figure.”

Del Re asked if it would not be more sensible to leave the tax rate at 3.9 mills and issue refunds if needed, and Stache said the township is not in a position that they have to do that. “(The county) is saying there is uncertainty, but I don’t really think there’s a lot of uncertainty,” he said.

In other business, the commissioners will continue a public hearing on April 1 regarding an amendment to township zoning ordinance providing for solar panels.

The first part of the public hearing was held on March 4 and attracted no comments from the public.

Scott Brilhart, director of community development, said the township participated in a project funded by the U.S. Department of Energy in which about two dozen municipalities, most from Allegheny County, worked together to develop model solar zoning ordinances for municipalities.

He said the proposed amendment was drafted using the model zoning ordinance that developed out of this process.

The amendment will add definitions for solar photovoltaic systems and incorporate new sections to permit certain solar photovoltaic systems as accessory uses in any zoning district, Brilhart said.

Andrew Schwartz of Environmental Planning & Design, which worked with the municipalities to draft the model ordinance, said that $7.5 million in grant money for homeowners installing solar power systems was made available by the state legislature after Jan. 1. He said about $3 million is already spoken for in applications that were submitted but put on hold until the money was released.

Schwartz said they expect the money to be available through the end of 2013.

He said there is also a 30 percent federal tax credit available on the installation of systems.

Schwartz said that some homeowners associations might have more restrictive rules than the zoning ordinance related to solar panels. If so, the homeowner may have to get approval from their association or historic district.

“Some property owners will have to go through that extra step,” he said.

Schwartz said it would also be wise for a homeowner to consider the age of their roof, since photovoltaic cells are generally waranteed for 20 to 25 years. He said you would want to compare this to remaining expected years of your current shingles.

Del Re said homeowners would also want to look into whether installation of solar panels voided their roof warranty.

The proposed ordinance change lists three goals within it.

One goal is to “provide property owners and business owners/operators with flexibility in satisfying their on-site energy needs.”

Another stated goal is to “reduce overall energy demands within the township and to promote energy efficiency.

The third goal listed is to “integrate alternative energy systems seamlessly into the township’s neighborhoods and landscapes without diminishing quality of life in the neighborhoods.”

Also at the meeting, commissioners awarded bids for the annual street improvement program.

Commissioners awarded a bid of $1,022,096.45 to El Grande Industries of Monessen for the 2013 street resurfacing program. They also awarded a bid of $21,000 to Matcon Diamond, Inc. of Pittsburgh, for the 2013 street crack sealing program.

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