Friday, January 13, 2012

Known, but undisclosed, knowns

So it's been an interesting couple of days. Sincere thanks for all the notes of support and sympatico along the way. At the other extreme I don't think I could summarize the comments I've had, but they range the gamut from folks telling me I don't have a clue, literally made it all up, or otherwise am delusional. We will dig into it all more of course as we watch the neverending machinations. The first blog post here addressing assessments was over five years ago (and I forgot this oped is now over a decade old as of next week) so I figure they can't end now.  Back then I figure I bored even the regular readers here bringing up such a boring topic as assessments. No longer I guess. 

The arguments certainly are not any more completed than is the legal process.  It looks like Judge Wettick has ordered an update on the assessment for next week already, so it all continues.  It really could be a year of assessment posts. On that point, for those who think much actually changed it may not be as it appears.  The news is that the county will not attempt to oppose the progress of the reassessment. So nobody is going to jail.  The timing of key milestones have been pushed out by 7 days in most cases is all.  Per a new filing last week the current schedule of new assessment numbers to arrive for municipalities other than Allegheny is as follows. The numbers in the header are for subregions of the county.  If it isn't clear, it means a lot more numbers are coming in the mail real real soon. Probably will be a shock for those who may read just the headlines and be thinking this process all ended. I'll lay odds most will receive the new letters and think they are "null and void" per previous.

For sure we can and will be arguing accuracy in individual or collective assessment values forever.   Can we all at least agree on the issue being data transparency, openness and why we don't even know what is known. So the very first question is will the new assessment numbers reappear on the county web site anytime soon? Has anyone asked that question? Not there as I write this is all I know.  Will they release a full data set or will we all have to become a county of hackers to scrape it over and over again?  Best practices there.

So I just thought it might be fun to point out a news story from almost a YEAR ago.  See the Trib: After reassessment, many in county could see lower taxes, by Tim Puko, February 11, 2011.  And in that is a quote NOT from me (I'm going to make you follow the link to read it) that goes:
The fastest-rising values are in Pittsburgh neighborhoods, meaning people in 87 of 130 suburbs deserve to pay a lower share of county taxes,

Go figure that and tell me how it matches the public sentiment as reported.  Also tell me why anything I said was 'news' in any real sense.  It was all well known before it all began and there really isn't any real debate that for the majority taxes will go down with the new assessment numbers.  Seriously, read the full story please.  Ponder it.  Think about whether any of it makes sense given the last week. I know, there are all sorts of issues with getting 'accurate' assessment values. What amazes me is that in this whole debate the folks who are clearly going to be winners thought they were losing and those clearly losing thought they were winners.  Makes for some odd politics.

Since nobody seems to have asked this on the record.  But does anyone know how much cost to mail out the mass mailing to everyone in the City of Pittsburgh telling them to ignore the 2012 assessment numbers.  Everyone got one, so you are talking over 100 thousand pieces of mail sent out really quickly, so there must have been some rush premia on that.  Someone paid that bill?  Speaking of money, one of Judge Wettick's ruling yesterday was that the county could not fire the assessor, and I presume the firm that has been working on this for the county since 2002. Think he was in a good position to negotiate a decent contract?  I still think this last week might have been a bit more entertaining if Ed was still on the county payroll.

Speaking of money. Has anyone added up how much money the county spent on the the 2005 assessment it threw out completely.  Does anyone have the 2005 assessment numbers just to look at?  Did the county get anything for whatever that $ amount works out to be.

Maybe it would be good for a little perspective.  Great collection of some seriously glum looks in this photo from the November 30, 1930 Pittsburgh Press.  Can you see the one almost-happy looking guy there looking up:


Anonymous Anonymous said...


Would you consider posting the raw data points you scraped from the county's assessment website to your blog so that others can analyze it?


Friday, January 13, 2012 10:54:00 AM  
Anonymous BrianTH said...

Of course redistributing county taxes among various jurisdictions is a relatively small issue (the bigger issues being how municipal and school taxes are redistributed within their jurisdictions).

Still, it is remarkable, although perhaps not surprising, at how effect the politicians were at misleading people about how to think about the reassessment.

Friday, January 13, 2012 2:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It would also be interesting to scrape the data from and compare it to the reassessment. In my locality, the assessments were generally lower than what zillow thought was fair market value.

The zillow data is affected by the county data so we'd want to pull the 12/1 data or something like that.

At the end of the day, the assessment opponents made a masterful play to disassociate the millage discussion from the assessment information. As you've said already, people really just care about the TAX and not the actual ASSESSMENT. In every other case, you want to see your property values go up.

If my property values go up and my taxes go down or don't change, I certainly would not waste everyone's time and money in appealing my assessment.

The structure as it is now is that if I don't appeal and my neighbor does, then I am paying more tax and the city is paying more for having to deal with all the appeals. That's fundamentally broken as well.

Friday, January 13, 2012 2:23:00 PM  
Anonymous BrianTH said...

Note Zillow values might be higher in part because the assessment date is June of 2010.

Friday, January 13, 2012 3:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok, if there is a belief that there is too much entaglement between the zillow value and the assessment value, what about looking at the the difference between the amount paid for a sale in the last 3 years (removing the $1 sales) vs the assessment value? All that is also collected on Zillow.

Saturday, January 14, 2012 7:23:00 AM  

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