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Taxing situation

Property values will be adjusted ... eventually

September 21, 2018 Digital Media Exclusive

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Michelle Montagna amends a property record using a typewriter in the Butler County Assessment Office Friday. Montagna has worked as an assessment clerk for 25 years. She, like others in the office, still uses a typewriter every day. At the end of 2018 the office plans to switch from a paper-based system to a computer-driven record software.

Countywide reassessment is a dirty term for many Pennsylvania counties, as the state simultaneously allows counties to go decades without performing one while its judicial branch sometimes rules that its counties must. It seems to be a process that nearly always needs doing, but no one wants to be the one who orders it.

A letter dated Aug. 21 from Butler City Council to the Butler County Assessment Office suggested that the office stop handling reassessment requests within the city and instead conduct a countywide reassessment, if it must do any reassessing at all. “If the county feels that property reassessment is necessary, we recommend that you pursue a countywide reassessment rather than doing spot assessments within our city,” the council wrote. It added that the city would support “reasonable tax reassessment” for owner-occupied housing only. The county's board of commissioners, by way of its solicitor, Michael English, responded with a letter of its own Thursday. English wrote “regardless of the reasons for your request, the county is not legally permitted to pursue this course of action.”

The last year Butler County reassessed all its property values was 1969, meaning its taxation system is using the third oldest property assessment figures in the state, according to the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy.

The old numbers indicate a degree of inaccuracy in the assessments being used, experts say. Beyond their effect on tax bills, they also may open the county up for a legal battle down the road, as several counties using comparably-aged or even younger assessments have been court-ordered to reassess values.

So what does using old values mean in practice? It means property owners are being taxed today based off what their land was worth or would have been worth in 1969.

That doesn't mean tax bills remain at 1969 levels. While assessed values are frozen in time, millage rates for the county, municipalities and school districts have risen. Butler County tax bills are generated by multiplying a property's assessed value by whatever entity's millage rates apply to it.

This is an excerpt. Find out who could be affected, the full cost of a reassessment, why no one wants to be the one to make the change, and more in Sunday's Butler Eagle.

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