Northgate to look at assessments

Although it won’t stop the Northgate School Board from increasing taxes this year, the board has agreed to work with a local real estate broker to figure out why steadily increasing home sale prices are not automatically resulting in higher tax revenue for the district without an increase in millage.

At Monday’s school board meeting, broker Ryan Brown said that the average sale price of a home in Avalon and Bellevue has increased from $100,000 in 2015 to $160,000 in 2019, although that is not a phenomenon unique to Northgate; prices are going up everywhere, he said. Those increases are not necessarily resulting in an immediate increase in tax revenue, he said, because taxes are levied on the assessed value of a property, and it could take one to three years before the property is reassessed at the current market value.

Northgate has a policy of asking Allegheny County to increase the assessments of properties where the sales prices are a certain percentage higher than the current assessed value. That practice also presents a problem for Northgate, Brown said, because new homebuyers are expecting to pay a certain amount in property taxes each year, only to have the increased assessment result in a tax bill that could be thousands of dollars higher than anticipated. That creates a situation in which buyers are more likely to default or sell their homes to move somewhere more amenable to their budgets.

School board members questioned Brown’s numbers, however, as figures from Allegheny County indicate that the total assessed value of property within the Northgate School District has decreased by $6.8 million since 2014. Business manager Chris Ursu confirmed that “assessments have been staying pretty steady” over the last five years.

Brown suggested that other factors - such as commercial property sale prices and the demolition of properties - may be affecting the overall assessment total.

The board agreed that more study could be useful, and Brown offered to work with officials to analyze the assessment data.

On another front in tax-related matters, board member Dan O’Keefe said that the possibility of switching some of Northgate’s tax burden from property to earned income taxes would require the appointment of a task force, and a referendum that could not appear on a ballot for voter action before the primary election in 2021.