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Pennsylvania Property Tax Updates

UPDATED september 2018

LATEST PENNSYLVANIA NEWS ON UNIFORMITY IN ASSESSMENT

In the summer of 2017, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued its landmark decision in Valley Forge Towers, restoring meaning to the constitutional requirement of uniformity in taxation.  Pennsylvania, like nearly every state, has a constitutional requirement of uniformity in taxation.  One hundred years of decisions from Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court consistently underscore the primacy of uniformity as the foundational concept in taxation.  However, decades of intermediate appellate decisions failed time and again to apply the concept correctly.

Post-Valley Forge, the decisions out of trial courts on uniformity are mixed – and the first cases are making their way to argument at the intermediate appellate court, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, in October 2018.  In Philadelphia County, the trial court threw out 138 school-initiated appeals, finding that the school’s scheme for selecting taxpayers for appeals (purportedly a monetary threshold) violated constitutional uniformity.  Oral argument in the Philadelphia appeal is tentatively scheduled before the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court for November 2018.  (Interestingly, last week the City of Philadelphia filed its notice of  non-participation in the appeal, leaving the school district to defend its scheme alone.)  Unfortunately, a uniformity case decided against taxpayers arising out of Allegheny County (Pittsburgh-area) is scheduled for argument first before the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court on October 15, 2018.  The uniformity argument in the Allegheny County case is framed to ask for enforcement of an esoteric administrative rule as opposed to being framed as an outright challenge on the “welcome stranger” practice of Pittsburgh-area school districts to select recently-sold properties for increase appeals (which practice is not constitutional under the United States Supreme Court case in Allegheny Coal.)

It is frustrating and unfortunate that the first case that the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court will hear on uniformity post-Valley Forge is framed on such narrow grounds.  Other appeals from trial courts around the state have been filed to the Commonwealth Court, but are not yet scheduled for argument.  In addition, several trial courts have ruled favorably on threshold issues such as allowing discovery into the school’s methodology for selecting taxpayers for appeal and in requiring that the uniformity issue be resolved before forcing the taxpayer to defend on market value.  We will continue to provide updates as the law develops.

To discuss the specifics of your property, please contact Siegel Jennings at:

Sharon F. DiPaolo
Siegel Jennings, Co., L.P.A.

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