UrbanTools got underway as the Henry George Foundation of America in Pittsburgh in 1926. Through the years, some of the most respected elected officials in Western Pennsylvania such as Pennsylvania Gov. David Lawrence, and mayors Scully and McNair served on our Board of Directors.
During those 85+ years, Pittsburgh and other Allegheny County cities and school districts have utilized land value taxation as a tool to discourage private land banking and to encourage all levels of investment and labor inside municipal boundaries.
In the year 2000, Allegheny County already weakened by the collapse of the steel industry, and subsequent depopulation and disinvestment commissioned a re-valuation of all properties in the county. It was a disaster, with land values in the city of Pittsburgh having no rhyme or reason. In the ensuing political arguments, land value tax was rescinded.
In that time assessments have remained frozen, as the elected leadership of Allegheny County could not decide the best course of action to take. Sometimes, doing nothing is the best answer, but not here. Poor neighborhoods and cities became continually and dramatically over assessed as overall economic performance declined but values on real estate remained the same.
Fast forward to the past couple of years, and class-action lawsuits and a determined judge led to a state Supreme Court order for Allegheny County to reassess.
Just last week, values released to the city of Pittsburgh and school district where the subject of much discussion and angst. As of January 13, the new County executive ran the risk of being held in contempt of court for not implementing the new assessments, values had increased over the 2002 values, and the judge in charge of the case ordered the values to be held over to the year 2013. So far so typical.
It doesn't have to be like this. Most states require genuine revaluations with a uniform system statewide. Assessment is no longer an art, is a science. And with the resurgence of respect for the real property tax – after the failure of other forms of taxation during the great recession of 2008-2012 - the property tax will be around for a very long time to come.
There is an alternative proposition to government revaluation however. With government in so much doubt over its ability or political viability to conduct a reassessment, why not put the decision of values in the hands of the citizens?
Dr. Herbert Barry III, and UrbanTools board member has written a short essay that respects the intelligence of the citizens of Allegheny County, and may provide a long-term solution to fear of assessment. His solution? Self-assessment.
This blog post, courtesy of Dr. Barry will be the first of many semiregular posts on the subject of property valuation/assessment and taxation. What do you think of this proposal?