Lebo reassessment proposal pits neighbor against neighbor

Published Mar 19, 2014 at 7:01 am (Updated Mar 16, 2014 at 5:06 pm)

The Mt. Lebanon Commissioners recently voted (3-2) to raise taxes on anyone who bought a home in the municipality. This is a practice that was discontinued years ago when property homebuyers complained about being unfairly singled out for the crime of buying a home. This practice is frowned upon in many parts of the country and is known as the “Welcome Stranger” rule. Mt. Lebanon used to appeal about 600 homes that sold each year and was successful raising taxes on these properties based on the sales prices. Will the municipality prevail? It would be more difficult fishing in barrels.

The court-ordered reassessment is over. The last sale used to compute the values of all properties in the county was March, 2011 (http://www.alleghenycounty.us/salesbysd.aspx).

That means that the reassessed values are already three years old. It’s safe to assume that values have gone up on all properties in three years. What did Mt. Lebanon decide to appeal? Instead of asking the county to review and revalue all properties, it will only appeal the properties that have recently sold. The commissioners hired a firm to review “underassessments” with sales used as the major variable. Good luck with that if your base year assessment is much lower than the sales price. For example: a home in Mission Hills sold for $660,000 and is assessed at $400,000. The municipality argues that this home should be assessed at current real-time market value. If done, the homebuyers would receive an additional tax bill of $8,200! Similar homes on the street that have not sold will continue to pay $8,200 less per year because their assessments are frozen in the Bizarro world of old-time ... non-sold base year. This welcome stranger scheme pits neighbor against neighbor, new owner versus old owner, real time assessment versus old time base year assessment. This results in similar homes with grossly dissimilar tax bills until the next court ordered reassessment.

The county does not plan to have a reassessment until the entire state does. So, it is now up to taxing jurisdictions to reassess homes on appeal. Here is the explanation for “fairness.” Develop an appeals scheme that discriminates against the underassessed homebuyers raising their assessments and taxes. At the same time, failing to appeal identical non-selling properties. This scheme pits neighbor against neighbor.

A taxing body votes to file these appeals based solely on sales, while generally ignoring the non-sales. The appeals deadline is approaching. Residents of Mt. Lebanon should ask its elected officials to preserve a constitutional right of uniformity in taxation (especially if you bought your home) and refuse to raise assessments on the properties that sell, while freezing base year assessments on the non-selling properties for the next 10 years or so. The commissioners should revisit and reconsider its decision penalize citizens who buys homes in the municipality. A property owner should be able to pay taxes on the value of his home compared to his neighbors’ home. The Mt. Lebanon scheme creates two classes of taxpayers and it should be voted down upon further review.

Michael Suley

Mt. Lebanon

Suley is past vice-chair of the Allegheny County appeals board and also a past manager of the Office of Property Assessments.

Lebo reassessment proposal pits neighbor against neighbor

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