Saturday, June 9, 2007
On Wednesday, Judge R. Stanton Wettick, Jr. of the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas held unconstitutional the state's property tax assessment system because it produces "arbitrary, unjust, and unreasonably discriminatory results." Clifton v. Alegheny County, No. GD05-028638 (6/6/07):
The issue addressed in this Decision/Order is the constitutionality of Pennsylvania's assessment laws which permit real estate taxes to be levied on assessed values established by the use of a base year market value for an indefinite number of years. Allegheny County, for example, uses 2002 as its base year. This means that real estate taxes for 2007 are determined by using the 2002 fair market value of taxpayers' properties.
Under a base year system, market fluctuations between 2002 and 2007 are not considered. ...
Assessment laws that allow the use of a base year assessment without requiring reassessments violate the Uniformity Clause because (1) base year assessments are not intended to assess all properties at the same percentage of assessed value to actual value, (2) base year assessments inherently cause significant disparities in the ratio of assessed value to fair market value, and (3) base year assessments inevitably discriminate against owners of property in lower-value neighborhoods. ...
I am entering a court order declaring that the provisions in Pennsylvania's assessment laws which allow a county to arrive at actual value by using a base year market value violate the Uniformity Clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution. because my ruling involves a statewide issue -- the constitutionality of the use of a base line method of assessment that every county in the Commonwealth uses -- and because Allegheny County's assessments are more uniform than the assessments of most other counties, Allegheny County should not be governed by reassessment standards that do not apply to Pennsylvania's other 66 counties. Thus, the interests of justice are served by permitting Allegheny County to continue to assess property in the same manner as all other counties while the anticipated appeal from my ruling is pending in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Also, this will permit the General Assembly to consider whether to enact assessment laws similar to those of other states.
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