Property reassessment reform coming to Pennsylvania



HARRISBURG, March 21 – A bipartisan trio of legislators today lauded Senate Bill 66’s passage through the state legislature, which will make sweeping reforms to the way property reassessments are conducted in Pennsylvania.

State Reps. Jesse White, Brandon Neuman and Rick Saccone said the bill passed the House of Representatives on Wednesday 196-0 and is headed to the governor’s desk, where it is expected to be signed into law. The bill unanimously passed the state Senate 49-0 on Jan. 29.

Largely based on bills authored by White, Neuman and Saccone – and on the House Task Force on Property Valuation and Reassessment created under their legislation – the bill would standardize reassessment processes that wildly vary among Pennsylvania’s 67 counties, and that often lead to dramatic property tax increases for home and business owners.

Under the bill, the responsibilities of the State Tax Equalization Board are moved under the umbrella of the Department of Community and Economic Development to use more modern resources to carry out the technical aspects of a reassessment.

The bill also implements a number of reforms recommended by the task force and through the findings of the Legislative Budget & Finance Committee report on reassessment that was released in 2010. These reforms include directing DCED to:

  • Create an operations manual to be used by counties when reassessing;
  • Create and maintain a statewide database for counties to use and report property values;
  • Develop and maintain statewide training programs for anyone involved in the valuation of property within any county during a reassessment;
  • Develop contracting standards for assessment services, taking into consideration the standards published by the International Association of Assessing Officers. Standards shall require the methodology to be made public and all data and calculations are the property of the county and the Commonwealth.

The legislators said virtually every interested party they worked with, including the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, and the Assessors’ Association of Pennsylvania, acknowledged the reassessment process was fundamentally flawed.

“This was a win for taxpayers, and a big win at that,” said White, D-Washington/Allegheny/Beaver. “The reforms that the legislature delivered today will allow counties to conduct a property reassessment in a much more fair, accurate and efficient way than the current framework provides. This is an issue not to be taken lightly, as illustrated by the problems in Allegheny County and potential problems for Washington County, where literally millions of taxpayer dollars are at stake.”

“Our reform efforts have been bipartisan and cooperative from the beginning, and hopefully we can continue to bring in all of the stakeholders to work together and do things the right way in Washington County if they are forced to reassess.”

“While we operate under the current tax system, it is essential that county reassessments are accurate for the taxpayers,” said Neuman, D-Washington. “With the governor’s signature, this bill will create essential databases, manuals and contracting standards that will streamline the reassessment process and make it fairer and accountable to taxpayers.”

“These hard-fought reforms were an absolute necessity to help prevent unfair property tax increases, especially for senior citizens, and the end result of this legislation will be a more equitable system in each county across Pennsylvania,” said Saccone, R-Allegheny/Washington. “Everyone acknowledges the property tax system is fundamentally broken in this state, so we have to take advantage of every opportunity to close loopholes and prevent backdoor tax increases. This day was long overdue, but taxpayers can finally rejoice over the fact that some of this property tax mess has been untangled.”

White said he, Neuman and Saccone also have been working with DCED and Washington County to create a reassessment pilot program where DCED would provide technical and operational assistance to the county to ensure the new guidelines are being properly implemented. Currently, Washington County is being forced to reassess the values of its 118,000 properties stemming from a lawsuit filed by Washington and McGuffey School Districts that could leave taxpayers with an $8 million bill.

“I am urging all stakeholders, including the school districts, to move beyond the maneuvering of the past and work together for the future because so much is at stake here,” White said. “Nobody likes the idea of having to reassess, but I think everybody would agree they’d rather be the first county to do so under a new system instead of being the last under the old system. These reforms should ensure the reassessment process stays true to its intended purpose and will not be used to generate excess revenue beyond the anti-windfall provisions set forth by law, resulting in a reassessment with minimal confusion and a strong commitment to protecting taxpayers.”

STATE REPRESENTATIVE
Jesse White

46th Legislative District
Allegheny, Beaver,
and Washington counties

(724) 746-3677