Wednesday, June 06, 2007

base year bye bye?

Well well, here is the news cycle for the week. Judge Wettick has just ruled against the constitutionality (the PA constitution that is) of the base year property assessment system put in place in Allegheny County a couple years ago. This should have the talking heads going for some time even though it is sure to be appealed for years and is far from over. If it does wind up standing, it could conceivably have a bigger impact elsewhere in the state than here. Some counties are using base year for assessment purposes that are not a few years in the past, but decades. Could be quite a shock for many in the state if that were to change. But from the case summary the Judge says:

By March 31, 2008 the Chief Assessment Officer of Allegheny Co. shall complete a computer assisted reassessment for use in 2008 similar to the reassessment she prepared in February 2005 for use in 2006.

I really need to write a history of property assessment in Allegheny County. In fact, the county has a big role in the history of Computer Aided Mass Assessments (CAMA) everywhere. Some of which I included when I wrote that it's always groundhog day when it comes to property assessments in Allegheny County. Thanks to the prothontary you can check out both the ruling that just came out and the entire history of the current legal battle.

How long has this been really going on? Most think the 1990's episode when Judge Wettick ruled that the county must conduct a county-wide mass reassessment is where this all started. Not even close. For the history wonk, some interesting yet amazingly relevant points are in the Jaffurs report from 1976. In it you will learn that even through the late 70's the main documentation of most properties in the county were in the form of WPA -era line drawings. no joke. That little invention named the polaroid camera was just too newfangled a device to be used here. But in the 1980's Judge Papadakos, then a Court of Common Pleas judge but later on the PA Supreme Court, would actually take over the running of the county assessment office for several years... something Judge Wettick never did despite some who think he did. If you look at that history, its pretty telling that when it came to an end the county commissioners actually wanted to Judge P. to continue running the assessment office. You can understand why. It's just too controversial a subject for most politicians to want anything to do with it. Thus in most places, as it was here for a couple decades, you just try to ignore it as much as you can until the problems become too big to avoid.

14 Comments:

Blogger Amos_thePokerCat said...

Pretty pathetic. Allegheny County must be the only county out the 3000 counties in this country that can not perform A basic fundamental function of government, i.e. assess taxes.

I don't think I saw anyone comment the Sunday Forum by Richman to end the assessment fiasco.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007 11:12:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

At the very least that statement is unfair. Few if any of the other Pennsylvania counties have assessment systems any better than Allegheny County...

On Ray Richman's suggestion: you should know that there have indeed been plenty of credible sales ratio studies done on Allegheny County parcels just as he has suggested in recent years. I am not sure how that solves anywthing, it just documents the problem which the Jusge is trying to fix. The other suggestions he has to just accept the existing roll is essentially the base year system that the Judge threw out. The limited increase or price index proposal is akin to the 1-2-3-4 proposal that Allegheny County tried and Wettick invalidated a couple years ago. So the answer to your question is yes.

But in the bigger picture I agree. Lots of other counties assess all the time without all this bruhaha. Ohio has clear rules on how often mass reassments must be completed and they have been doing it for years.

Thursday, June 07, 2007 8:42:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Few if any of the other Pennsylvania counties have assessment systems
any better than Allegheny County..." Yeah, but most of the counties
in PA have terrible CODs (e.g. see Judge Wettick's analysis starting
on page 25 of his Opinion). It is a statewide problem.

In addition to that, Allegheny County has to reckon with the way it
has treated the 11,000 or so home owners who purchased their property
between 2003 and 2005 who had their assessment raised to the purchase
price by an appeal from a taxing body. I purchased a home in 2003 and
in 2004 my property tax was increased over 50% due to such an appeal.
I have paid (and continue to pay) significantly more property taxes
than my neighbors with comparable houses.

What did the County do to address this problem? For tax years 2003 to
2005 they did absolutely nothing! If your assessment was raised by a
taxing body, too bad. The reassessment for 2006 would have fixed the
problem (to some degree), but the County threw it out and proposed the
1-2-3-4 assessment cap which did not help. When that was thrown out,
the "trending" scheme was proposed and then quickly withdrawn after
the numbers were put on the web for a few days. (In my area
"trending" made overall assessments go up, even if yours had already
been adjusted to the purchase price by a taxing body.)

Finally, we end up with the 2002 base year freeze --- except the
County keeps all the post-2002 appeals in place. The County says that
you have to appeal your way to uniformity in order to roll back the
original appeal by the taxing body. But the County says it is going
to do a single mass appeal of all 11,000 properties in order to do the
rollback. That didn't happen. Instead, the appeals board is doing
each appeal individually. Although the deadline for filing the appeal
was around March of 2006, the appeals board didn't actually start
hearing the appeals until fall, and they didn't actually finish
hearing the 2006 appeals until early 2007. Furthermore, they are
still in the process of deciding the 2006 appeals that they have
heard, so many of us have had to go ahead and pay our 2007 taxes while
waiting for our 2006 appeals to be processed.

Allegedly the result of 2006 county appeals depends on which board
member gets your case. The claim is that some taxing body appeals are
being fully rolled back, while others are not. Apparently, it depends
on the luck of the draw. It would be interesting to see some data
that could either support or refute this claim.

Is this really better than other counties?

Thursday, June 07, 2007 1:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Figure this out -- I bought my house in 2003 for just under $70K, at which time it was assessed at about half that. It is currently assessed at $18K. I have never appealed.

Given the descriptions I've seen of (what I believe to be) the way reassessment is done, I have no idea how they arrived at this figure. What's more, it doesn't make any real-world sense either -- property values in my area have actually increased pretty dramatically in the last 4 years.

Thursday, June 07, 2007 2:12:00 PM  
Blogger Amos_thePokerCat said...

For you say it is unfair, then you agree. I was going for the big picture.

Why anybody buy a house in Allegheny County with this undecided? Any wonder why Westinghouse moved to Cranberry/Butler County?

Again, is there any other county in the country with an assessment system this messed up, caught in a multi-year court battle?

Thursday, June 07, 2007 3:07:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

there are lot's of overlapping issues here that are almost too much to address here.

But to Amos, I may be unclear. Do I agree the current system is unfair. I think I do. Is assessment practice a reason people move to Cranberry/Butler. This is confusing issues I think. I think its pretty clear that the unfair assesssment practices are much more pronounced in counties other than Allegheny. I think the data is pretty clear on that.

it really is impossible to address specific cases with so little info. However, the example of assessments of a property at $18k is a case in point. One of the problems with the modeling is that the property values are so low in some parts of allegheny county. When Sabre first came in and did assessments.. what screwed it up was not their model but the data put into it. SOmeone decided that all low value parcel transactions were exclueded from the model calibration. That made sense for other regions of the country where if you ever saw a sub-$10 or even $20 sale it was not an arms length transaction. Here in AC though, lots of sub-areas only had transactions in that range. It introduces a systematic bias that is hard to address. I am not saying that was the case in susequent assessments, but it gets to a lot of fundamental issues of how you assess property in a county where values really approach zero or theoretically negative value.

Thursday, June 07, 2007 3:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pennsylvania is trapped by its own history. Like a smoking ban, it seems that the only way to fix assessments is with statewide standards for ANNUAL reassessments.

Waiting any length of time means sticker shock on a reassessment (even 4% growth a year equals 12% in 3 years or 20% in 5 years). If only the politicians had the guts to do the right thing in year one of their term, I believe it would blow over by their re-election.

Friday, June 08, 2007 5:48:00 PM  
Blogger mgriskey said...

Very useful and interesting information, in both the posting and the comments. I moved to Pittsburgh from out of state (Oregon) in 2004. Our house was immediately reassessed and our property taxes doubled. We are paying significantly more than neighbors who have larger houses and twice as much (and in one case, 8x much) as land. The tax code clearly states "uniform" taxation, but clearly we are not being taxed uniformly. Our situation is frustrating and to the point where we are about ready to move on (out of PA). Anyone else in this situation, please contact me, I'd like to discuss with others in the same boat the situation and what is being, or can be done, about it.

Thursday, June 14, 2007 10:05:00 AM  
Blogger Amos_thePokerCat said...

Yes, there is almost too much to address. My point was the big issue, and pretty simple, and straight forward. I was not commenting if the property tax was fair or not. (If you keep track of such things, then I am sure you are familiar with the property tax imbroglio in FL.)

It was just this, as far as I know, every state in the Union, and every county in each state has a property tax on real estate. They all manage to get the assessment down. It may not be perfect, and may not "fair", what every that means, but it is (like M$ Window) "good enough".

I have every seen such and utter failure of a basic simple government function in all my travels.

I guess you could argue that something like crime is a more serious problem, and I would agree. That is bigger, more political, and maybe unsolvable, problem.

My point is picking just this tiny little trivial thing. It seems that every other county manages to get it done. One way or another. Even every other county in this state.

The worst part is the uncertainty of when this will be solved. The elected county politicos have basicly punted to the judge. It does not seem like the judge wants to do the job for them. (Nor should he.) That was more my main point of why move to AC. Why put up with the uncertainty, and chaos, if you do not have to. Not so much the tax advantage.

Thursday, June 14, 2007 3:19:00 PM  
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