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Raja plan includes property assessment freeze for low-income seniors |

Raja plan includes property assessment freeze for low-income seniors

| Friday, October 21, 2011 12:00 a.m

Republican Allegheny County Executive candidate D. Raja said Thursday he wants to freeze property assessments for low-income seniors after the next reassessment — a reassessment his Democratic opponent has said he’ll block even if it means going to jail.

Married seniors making less than $31,500 a year and single seniors who make less than $23,500 a year would be able to shield themselves from county tax increases under Raja’s plan, which is modeled on a similar law in Philadelphia. It would not affect school district or municipal property taxes, but would cap the county tax bill if the state were to force another reassessment.

When Fitzgerald was on County Council from 1999 through March, he supported enactment of the county law that cuts as much as 30 percent from low-income seniors’ tax bills, his campaign said. He also wrote the county’s homestead exemption, which knocks $15,000 off a home’s assessed value.

The candidates sparred over environmental policies yesterday morning at a Downtown forum attended by about 50 young professionals.

Fitzgerald, 52, of Squirrel Hill criticized Raja’s proposal to eliminate the drink tax, saying the $28 million in lost revenue would have to be made up with a property tax increase. He criticized Raja, 45, of Mt. Lebanon for not offering specific cuts to offset the lost revenue, and mocked his “secret plan” to cut the budget. Raja has said he has a plan to cut the budget but wants to bring it to county department heads before announcing specifics.

Raja accused Fitzgerald of “incompetence” for asserting the county budget can’t be cut by $28 million. Raja noted that Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, a North Side Democrat, proposed a budget that cuts $38 million and doesn’t raise property taxes, “something (Fitzgerald) says cannot be done.”

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