Anger, Angst, Assessments
We will get back to that, but now yet again assessments. News is out with some of the latest numbers on commercial property assessments in the City of Pittsburgh. Again, everyone is confused. One quote today:
Mr. Kamin said the assessment on the historical Frick Building, where his offices are located, soared by 119.2 percent, from $17 million to $37.3 million.Nothing went up 'overnight'. The previous assessment values were all based on a 2002 base year. Which really means the market sales that went into the valuations were from before that even. These are values for 2012. So the benchmark is how much the nominal (not even inflation adjusted values) went up over a DECADE. Not 'overnight', by any definition. For commercial property owners they might want to consider it a benefit to get the assessment done soonest. If it gets delayed it might have the impact of pushing up values even faster given what the commercial property pundits are saying about Pittsburgh's forecast for the next couple of years.
"I think it's ridiculous," he said. "It's a landmark building but it didn't more than double overnight."
That is just one more example of how the county has ensuredthe mass confusion, consternation, angst and almost paranoia which reigns as a result of the ongoing property reassessment process. People are being scared and most of it just isn't necessary. Allegheny County accepted the reassessment plan over two years ago. It is not like the timing was any secret according to the county's own schedule. The current legal case that has lead us to this point goes back to 2005. Allegheny County's acceptance of Judge Wettick's order to complete an assessment by this date goes back a couple years now. The situation we are in today, and its timing has been carved into slate tablets for a long time now.
There are innumerable things that could have been done to educate and prepare folks for getting their assessment numbers. Just a little up front effort might have prevented a lot of folks from being as literally scared as they are. I have talked to innumerable people in the last week who believe firmly their taxes are skyrocketing and in some cases their future homeownership is in peril. In virtually all of the cases I have talked about, the homeowners property taxes are most likely going down. Yet they don't believe it; such is the public state of mind.
So if I was the benevolent data dictator, one of the things I would have done in this process dump out to the public a lot of data on how the assessment was completed. If you want to read how Sabre Systems did it back in 2001, start reading. That is not the CLT (the current contractor) methodology, but it is not a bad primer on the process and local Allegheny County issues with property assessments. Any reason there is not some educational material out there in short or long form? Would have made a big difference. Here we have even smart attorney folks thinking the assessment changes were all 'overnight'.
Second I would dump out a lot of diagnostics of the results so folks appreciate the changes going on, let along Individuals can of course look up individual assessment values, but not much more. I would have dumped out lots of descriptives and dumped out the whole dataset of new and old values. You might be amazed what people would be able to do with data if you set it free.
Sooo.. in the spirit of being "Data Driven" a term becoming ubiquitous, but that we rarely really mean. I think we are collectively going backwards personally. That has all been a long lead up for the data that thus far everyone, incluing the media, seems to be almost guessing at, or operating completely on anecdotal snippets of the big picture. I have a very rudimentary python program (to download if you want to look at it) one can use to scrape the data a more complete data site from the county assessment site. I am sure there are 9th graders in town who could write a better program. Given the speed I can get from the county's servers.. and probably the sheer inefficiency of my code, it's awfully slow, but it works. Don't try running it during the day, it takes overnight. To keep it workable, it pulls from a list of block and lot numbers of city residential properties which I will leave online for now. If anyone wants to use this program as a starting point for a better and more useful program, I'd love to see it.
Below you will find what it gives me. The distribution of how the new numbers compare to the old can be summarized in the graphic below. This is the distribution of the ratio of new values vs. old values in the City of Pittsburgh data thus released. Thus far the news is that the aggregate values of residential property in the city is 46% higher than the old values. It is still dependent on the commercial property values come in at in aggregate, but if taxes are adjusted to be revenue neutral based on the +46% value, then it works out that there are 56K properties that will see their taxes go down, under 1,000 will remain exactly the same and 40K with taxes that will go up. Works out to ~60% seeing property tax decreases. Of course predicated on taxing bodies following the law of course. Still, never has good news been so badly received.
Not to say there are not angry folks out there. Just under 5% are looking at effective tax increases of 100% or more (which would happen if your nominal values increased by 292% or more). A lot of folks for sure, and I am sure most of them will be filing appeals. I bet a lot (not all, a lot though) of those very high ratios are new construction in some form and I bet those parcel owners are not too suprised in general. Probably the maximum anger is found in parcels somewhere between those two lines I've marked.