Delayed reassessment could be ‘painful’ for Westmoreland County property owners, expert says
Senior citizens and retirees who own their homes are the biggest winners from the recent announcement that there would not be a reassessment of property values anytime soon in Westmoreland County.
Those who see their income going down while their home price goes up benefit most when there’s no reassessment, said Robert Peirce, a Pittsburgh attorney who handled residents’ assessment appeals in Allegheny County.
But another expert, Randy Walsh, an associate professor in economics at the University of Pittsburgh, warned that the longer the county waits to update assessments last done in 1972, the bigger the shock when they finally do.
“It makes absolutely no sense for them not to reassess. Eventually, they’re going to be forced to, and that assessment is going to be painful,” Walsh said. “It is going to be huge. There are going to be big winners and big losers.”
The big winners will be those whose properties have been under-assessed for decades. The big losers will be the ones whose properties have greatly increased in value over the years.
Assessments ideally are meant to reflect market value of a property. Since taxes are based on assessed value, properties that increase in value over the years benefit when there aren’t periodic adjustments in assessments, Walsh said.
“This essentially means properties that have seen a lot of appreciation over the last 43 years are going to systematically be under-assessed and those properties that have not seen an appreciation are going to be over-assessed,” Walsh said.
Conversely, people who live in an area where home prices have dropped, jobs have left and businesses have closed their doors or industries have moved out, are paying a disproportionate share of taxes because they are over-assessed, said Marc Stier, director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center.
“You are basically giving a break to people who are becoming wealthier and you’re keeping taxes artificially high for people who are relatively poor,” Stier said about not updating assessment roles.
Although the county values are outdated, Commissioner Charles Anderson said there’s been no demand for a reassessment and relatively few property value appeals.
That may be because people who are under-assessed don’t want to pay more in taxes, and those who are paying too much aren’t really affected significantly, Peirce said.
“Their losses are relatively minimal because they don’t pay very much in taxes” to start, Peirce said.
Appealing your property value and gathering evidence to support your position that it’s too high can also just be a hassle, said Stier.
Reassessing Westmoreland County’s 200,000 properties could take several years, would cost up to $15 million and would be wildly unpopular, officials said.
“I don’t want to go down the road Allegheny County went. Anytime it has been done, it’s been a disaster,” Anderson said during the annual State of County address Thursday.
Last year, Indiana County residents formed advocacy groups, called for commissioners’ resignations and packed public meetings decrying their newly assessed property values.
“From our standpoint, it’s neutral revenue,” Anderson said. “We’re not going to move forward with it.”
Kari Andren is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-850-2856 or [email protected].