Allegheny County’s government is a unique institution because we have what is known as a “Home Rule Charter.” This was established through a May 1998 referendum that grants the voters of Allegheny County the ability to control the structure and operations of the county government through the voting process.
Over the past year, one of the topics I have heard about the most from my constituents is the assessment and property tax situation in Allegheny County. Citizens have demanded a change to the current system which has been deemed as unfair by many. In addition, a court ordered reassessment has revealed that the current process is subjective, confusing, and amounts to a very costly mandate. After many months of debating the various options, I have determined that the best option for the assessment situation is to apply the Home Rule Charter if our local government cannot determine a long-term solution.
Recently, I have introduced Senate Bill 1462 (SB 1462) which would authorize Allegheny County Council to eliminate property assessments through an ordinance. An ordinance of this manner will prohibit Allegheny County as well as any political subdivision, like municipalities or schools districts, within the county from imposing a property tax. If county council does not adopt the ordinance because they do not want to cast a vote or because they lack a majority vote, the county council, or the voters of Allegheny County, will have the ability to propose the ordinance through a public referendum.
If Allegheny County Council or a voter referendum elects to eliminate a property tax, funding for the county, municipality and school services received under a property tax must be funded through others form. SB 1462 addresses this issue through granting the county, and each municipality and school district the ability to collect an earned income tax, personal income tax, sales tax, fee per square foot on real property or any other tax authorized under the Local Tax Enabling Act, or combination of to make up this lost revenue.
In order to prevent the municipalities from drastic tax increases for these services rendered, the governing body of the municipalities will be prohibited from increasing the tax to raise no more than the amount of revenue collected from the property taxes in the year in which the prohibition was imposed. In the future, increases in the rate of any tax or fee would require a majority vote by the governing body.
I was elected to represent the people of Allegheny County and I have been listening. In the fall, I introduced Senate Bill 1280 (SB 1280) which would provide for a temporary moratorium on court-ordered reassessments through November 2012. However, the General Assembly has made it clear that passing this initiative is not a priority. For that reason, I have taken this opportunity to try and solve the inequalities that the reassessments have imposed on property owners of Allegheny County.
I believe in the Home Rule Charter and this legislation gives people the opportunity to allow their voices to be heard through their elected officials in County Council or through a referendum. This measure will also provide the vehicle necessary to grant each municipality a say in how they are governed and the flexibility needed for the local government and school districts to work together to find a solution to address the seriousness of the property tax issue within the county.
Senator Wayne D. Fontana
42nd Senatorial District