EDITORIAL - Property value: Pennsylvania needs a statewide assessment fix

Written by Susan Mannella on .

Allegheny County is not alone in its assessment struggle. Other counties are facing long-overdue updates of their property assessments, meaning many Pennsylvanians beyond those in or near Pittsburgh will experience the uncertainty and fear of not knowing the tax consequences of a looming reassessment.

It's a hot topic in Luzerne County, which recently spent $9 million on its first reassessment in 40 years. Bedford County just reassessed for the first time since 1957, and the sheriff said deputies will be kept visible throughout the courthouse when angry property owners wage their appeals. Philadelphia finished a reassessment on 577,000 properties, but an examination by the Philadelphia Inquirer challenged the accuracy of many of the new numbers.

Adding to the controversy over these value updates is the fact that each county did them individually while their neighboring counties don't have to do them at all. That's the predicament Allegheny County faces and it was the reason that the Post-Gazette faulted the state Supreme Court's decision last month: It forced this county to update its 2002-based values, but it did not order a statewide reassessment.

State Rep. John Yudichak has a plan to help the state look at property assessment the only fair way: comprehensively. The Luzerne County Democrat has introduced House Resolution 272, which charges the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee, the General Assembly's research arm, with doing a study of the assessment system in Maryland and other states similar to Pennsylvania and making recommendations to the Legislature for how to improve this state's approach.

Maryland reassesses one-third of its properties annually, meaning a statewide reassessment occurs every three years. Other states require that assessments be done at other intervals, 22 of them on an annual basis. Pennsylvania is the only state that lets counties hitch property assessments to a base year indefinitely, in effect, becoming a freeze.

The state Supreme Court ruled this was unfair in Allegheny County, but then failed to take the next logical step and say it was unfair in the other 66 counties. Now it's up to the Legislature to find a statewide solution.

Mr. Yudichak's proposal is on the right track, and it deserves the support of every fair-minded lawmaker. In the meantime, because of the court's shortsightedness, Allegheny and other counties will be forced to endure their individual assessment trials.


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