Up Go Property Taxes

Struggling to balance their budgets, 199 Pennsylvania school districts have asked the state for permission to raise local property taxes, the state Department of Education announced yesterday. That’s forty percent of all the districts in the state. Faced with Governor Corbett’s $1 BILLION in state cuts to public education, school districts have few alternatives.

Because of the 2006 Taxpayer Relief Act, Districts may not raise their local property taxes without either seeking voter approval (by local referendum), or requesting an exemption from the state. School boards know that it is extremely difficult to convince voters to raise their own taxes: the ballot option frequently fails, leaving Districts with no revenue options.

Now the state has made it even harder to apply for exemptions. Districts used to have ten reasons they could petition, but Governor Corbett signed a new law last June limiting the number of exceptions to three: school districts can only raise taxes due to school construction projects that were already underway before the law went into effect, to cover special education costs, and to pay for pension obligations.

Of the 199 school districts requesting permission to raise property taxes, 35 are here in Yinzer Nation (see the full list below). The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports that districts are trying to deal with the uncertainty created by the current state budget cuts. “We’re in the same position as every other district,” Ligonier Valley School Board President James Cunkleman said. “We don’t know what we’ll be getting, but we do know that we have obligations that we have to meet. We’d like to not have to raise taxes at all, but that might not be an option.”

Not all school districts that request permission to raise taxes will wind up doing so, but recent evidence suggests that most will. Last year, for instance, 135 of the 228 districts that asked for exemptions – or 59% – raised local property taxes. Those taxes are based on “mills”: one mill equals $1 for every $1,000 in assessed property value. In other words, a homeowner with a house worth $100,000 would pay $100 in property taxes for each mill.

That brings us to millage rates. The Department of Education approved millage increases ranging from 0.06 mills in the Riverview School District to 4.41 in Ligonier Valley. Other districts on the high end of millage increases include Seneca Valley (3.60 mills), Slippery Rock (3.52 mills), Franklin Regional (3.43 mills) and Uniontown (3.34 mills). The massive state cuts to public education are forcing even the wealthiest schools to raise local property taxes: for example, Mt. Lebanon and Upper St. Clair are both on the list.

As you read through the following list of school districts and their approved millage rate increases, remember that local property taxes are the worst way to pay for public education, leading to horrible inequity in school funding. And these are just 35 of 199 school districts looking to raise taxes: that’s 199 more reasons the state needs to reverse these devastating budget cuts and start providing equitable and sustainable funding for public education.

Albert Gallatin — 0.60
Ambridge — 1.51
Avonworth — 0.60
Baldwin-Whitehall — 0.56
Beaver — 1.04
Bethel Park — 0.41
Burgettstown — 0.19
Central Greene — 0.30
Clairton City — 0.35 for buildings; — 8.69 for land
Ellwood City — 1.62
Franklin Regional — 3.43
Freeport — 1.7 Armstrong; — 2.8 Butler
Gateway — 0.41
Hempfield — 0.25
Highlands — 0.63
Karns City — 1.02 Armstrong; — 1.55 Butler; — 0.00 Clarion
Ligonier Valley — 4.41
Mt. Lebanon — 0.61
North Allegheny — 0.32
North Hills — 0.33
Peters — 2.15
Pine-Richland — 0.51
Quaker Valley — 0.63
Riverview School District – 0.06
Seneca Valley — 3.60
Sharon — 1.38
Sharpsville — 0.28
Shenango — 0.30
Slippery Rock — 3.52
South Fayette — 0.41
Uniontown — 3.34
Upper St. Clair — 1.23
Washington School District – 2.88
Western Beaver — 2.51
Wilkinsburg — 0.85

One thought on “Up Go Property Taxes

  1. This is a very timely post, too, since most of us in the city of Pittsburgh had our property re-assessed this year. And I’m not sure if it was sneaky or not, but while the new values didn’t apply to this year’s taxes, they will kick in next year, and yesterday was the deadline to file an appeal. As someone who cares about schools (and everything else we finance with our property taxes) I’m reluctant to fight it, but it still feels so much more regressive than a higher state income tax would be!

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