2013 Reassessment: Will you pay more?

Property owners in the northern suburbs received their 2013 reassessment notifications last week, with reactions ranging from concern to disgust. It’s hard to tell how much of the reaction is sticker shock, however, and how much is due to the actual tax impact property owners will feel.

To figure that out, taxpayers will have to do a little research and a little math.

A critical number in evaluating the assessment impact is the percentage increase in property values in a given municipality, school district and Allegheny County as a whole.

Also important to take into consideration is the state law that prohibits taxing bodies from experiencing a windfall due to reassessment. Each municipality and school district will have to reset its millage rate next year so that it receives no more than 105 percent of this year’s property tax revenue.

That means that if a municipality had $3 million in property tax revenue in 2012, and property values overall in the municipality increased by 50 percent for 2013 -- thereby creating the potential for $4.5 million in property tax revenue next year at the current millage rate -- the municipality will have to decrease its millage rate so that it collects no more than it did in 2012.

For taxpayers, according to Allegheny County, it means that the amount they pay in property taxes is unlikely to increase next year unless their individual property assessment is higher than the average increase for the municipality, school district or county.

Based on the averages, Bellevue property owners are the least likely to see increased tax payments to the borough next year. Bellevue’s overall increase in property values was 57 percent. So, the owner of a house assessed in 2012 for $100,000 would have to have his 2013 assessment reach over $157,000 before the owner would pay more property taxes to Bellevue next year.

The school district value increase percentage is even more important, because school millage rates can be 10 times -- or more -- higher than the municipal and county millage rates.

Northgate’s total value increase for 2013 is 47 percent, and the same rule applies. An individual assessment would have to increase by more than 47 percent before a tax increase would result.

The municipal property value increases range from Bellevue’s high of 57 percent, to a low of 26 percent in Ohio Township and Ben Avon Heights. In between are Emsworth at 43 percent, Kilbuck at 38 percent, Ben Avon at 35 percent, and Avalon at 29 percent. Avonworth’s increase is 30 percent overall for the school district.

Property owners do have the right to appeal their assessments, but need to act quickly to meet April deadlines for filing.

Locally, Emsworth Borough will offer property owners some assistance if they choose to appeal. Council voted unanimously Wednesday evening to offer a program similar to what already has been announced in the City of Pittsburgh. In Pittsburgh, residential property owners who are senior citizens or those with homes assessed at less than $150,000 can receive free legal advice and financial help for appraisals if they choose to appeal. Limited funds are available.

In Emsworth, council approved a proposal by member Kevin Yurkovich to set aside $12,500 to assist residential property owners in their appeals. There are no age, income or property value restrictions, but the money will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. The property must have experienced an increase in assessment of at least 30 percent.

For those who qualify, the borough will reimburse them up to $100 per household upon presentation of a paid invoice for services relatd to the appeal.

Yurkovich said that he wanted to help people who would have a hard time paying higher taxes. “I would hope that people who make a good buck [won’t apply for the program]”

The funds will be available through Dec. 31, 2012.