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TAXING TIMES: A guide to Allegheny County's new property assessments

Here come the notices

Saturday, August 26, 2000

This week, Allegheny County property owners will begin to receive notices in the mail of new, preliminary values for their homes, farms and businesses. The notices are the result of a court-ordered reappraisal of all 580,000 properties in the county, the most extensive and expensive reappraisal in county history.

Ted Crow, Post-Gazette illustration 

Most property owners --- more than 80 percent -- will find that the values on their properties have gone up. Some will find that the values have gone way up.

But the notices won't answer the question that will be on the minds of most homeowners: How will these new values affect my property tax? Because so many properties will go up in value, some people with increased valuations will actually see the amount of property tax they pay go down.

The property tax question won't be answered definitively until the end of the year, when the county makes the new valuations official and school districts, municipalities and the county begin calculating their real estate tax millages.

Homeowners need to know those rates before they can calculate their property tax, which will be based on the new values beginning next year.

But the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, using property sales records and current tax rates for school districts and the county, has devised a method whereby property owners can roughly estimate the changes in their tax bills that the new appraisals will bring.

    Tips, background and where to turn

Looking at the notice: In search of a fairer system

Appraising your property: Step by Step

Reading your preliminary notice of market value

Answers to some of your questions

Appealing your appraisal: Step by Step

Where to take your questions

Getting help

Calendar for property valuation notices

Glossary of terms for reassessment


The countywide reappraisal stems from a lawsuit filed by six Quaker Valley School District taxpayers in 1997. The suit contended that outdated, erratic and inequitable appraisals by the county had made the property tax system unfair, and that an assessment freeze approved by county commissioners would simply prolong the inequity.

Common Pleas Judge R. Stanton Wettick Jr. agreed and lifted the freeze. He also ordered the entire county reassessed. The project was assigned by the county to a private firm, Sabre Systems and Service of Miamisburg, Ohio, which is being paid $23.9 million for the work.

The theory behind the reappraisals is simple: Property taxes are levied based on the value of the underlying property. If that property is appraised accurately, then everyone pays his or her fair share.

For some property owners, the new appraisals will result in little or no change in their property tax bills. Inevitably, the values of other properties, underassessed for years, will be much higher, and that could send the property taxes on these properties skyrocketing.

Yet the reassessment itself is intended to be revenue neutral. For every property owner who pays $1 more in taxes because of a higher appraisal, another property owner will pay $1 less.

That's not to say that local taxing districts can't raise their tax rates. But state law prohibits any of them from receiving a windfall of more than 5 percent because of the reassessment.

While the new appraisals are aimed at bringing more fairness to Allegheny County's property tax system, they also will generate questions, confusion and anger.

In this special report, the Post-Gazette examines the reappraisal process, explains how property owners who believe the valuations on their property are inaccurate can appeal and answers other questions that the reappraisal process might generate. You can find the print version of this report in your Sunday, Aug. 27 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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