Property taxes to jump 60% in proposed West Deer budget
Property taxes would increase next year by nearly 60 percent under West Deer’s proposed budget.
A tax increase of any size comes as a surprise to some township residents who say they had been told for years that the township’s 1.71-mill tax rate was at its ceiling under the township’s Home Rule charter and could not go any higher.
Under the proposed $4.2 million budget, the property tax rate would be increased one mill to 2.71 mills.
Township Manager Daniel J. Mator Jr. said the main reason for the increase is to fix township roads.
The township’s spending would increase by a little more than 9 percent over the $3.8 million budget for this year.
Citing minutes from past supervisors meetings and newspaper reports, resident Jack Best said officials have said for years that the township’s property tax rate could not be increased.
The limit was given as a reason for not raising taxes to provide money to local fire departments.
Solicitor Douglas Happel said the township’s 1974 charter sets a maximum millage rate of 12 mills, and that the increase being proposed is being done in accordance with the procedures outlined in the charter.
In 2002, then-Solicitor Mike Yukevich said a half-mill property tax increase that supervisors were considering was probably illegal.
In 2000, Allegheny County reassessed property and reformulated the county’s assessment system. West Deer recalculated its 10-mill tax rate, and township property taxes dropped to 1.45 mills.
According to a Nov. 21, 2002, report in the Valley News Dispatch, Yukevich said: “You can’t with a straight face say you can cap assessment at 12 mills when the county has increased the value of assessment by seven times over.”
The township would have to calculate what a 12-mill cap would be in the current assessment, which he said would be about 1.71 mills. About a month later, supervisors approved a budget for 2003 with the tax rate at 1.71 mills.
Under the township’s Home Rule charter, raising taxes over the cap would require voter approval in a referendum.
Best said he doesn’t think what supervisors are doing is illegal, but it is “unethical.”
“It should go to the voters,” he said.
Happel said the Home Rule charter was never amended. As for what past supervisors and township officials said, Mator said they were simply wrong in believing the township’s property tax was at its upper limit, which is what Mator said he had been told, too.
“It’s not unethical. It’s necessary,” Supervisor Leonard Guerre said. “We have no more reserve. We’re done. We have to do something.”
Resident Joe Semler said people in West Deer would “have a fit” upon seeing a newspaper headline of a 60 percent tax increase. He asked supervisors to consider making it something less.
If they don’t, “your phones are going to ring off the wall,” he said. “You better not be up for election next year.”
Mator praised the supervisors’ decision.
“What these guys showed me is courage in doing it,” Mator said. “They know they are going to take heat for it, but they’re doing what’s right for the community.”
The budget is scheduled to be passed Dec. 15. They next meet on Dec. 1.
Along with the budget, supervisors are expected to vote on abolishing the fire hydrant tax assessment and set the street light tax assessment for 2011.
Mator said the street light fund has enough money to last for possibly two years. Fire hydrant costs would be transferred to the township’s general fund.
Concrete plant hours changed
Supervisors approved a change in the permitted operating hours of a concrete Redi-Mix plant on Gibsonia Road. The plant has been the source of noise complaints and has been cited twice for operating in the middle of the night.
The Wendell H. Stone Co. had asked the township to consider changing its hours from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Supervisors approved hours recommended by the planning commission: 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday, and a start time of 7 a.m. Saturday.
If the company violates the hours, the start time would be set back to 7 a.m.
About the proposal
Here’s how taxes would change on a house with an average assessed value of $87,650:
Old tax rate: 1.71 mills
New tax rate: 2.71 mills
Old tax bill: $149.88
New tax bill: $237.53
Tax increase: $87.6