by Jonathan Weaver
The decision to keep preferential tax rates for many Armstrong County landowners enrolled in the “Clean and Green” assessment program might not be made soon.
After approving updated rates for the program based on Department of Agriculture values, Commissioner Chair David Battaglia, Commissioner Richard Fink and Commissioner Bob Bower received “a flood of information” since the middle of July questioning the action.
Thought to affect nearly 4,800 parcels of Armstrong County property, taxpayers lined out of the commissioners’ conference room in Kittanning during last week’s special meeting to make their voices heard.
Some taxpayers could see up to a 400 percent increase in taxes, and according to Battaglia, expressed they were “blindsided” by the motion.
Farm Bureau Vice-President Ross Grooms confirmed a meeting was held with commissioners to express concerns August 14.
“I would just like to reiterate that Farm Bureau would like to see some kind of compromise made to the earlier vote for the Clean and Green values that some landowners are going to see rather than one full swoop,” Grooms said. “Ultimately, we’d like to see it where it was but we can also understand that may not be an option.”
Battaglia reiterated throughout the meeting that he shared resident concerns and wanted all residents to be treated fairly if possible.
“I can definitely appreciate what you’re saying there –that has got to be sticker-shock. In some places where we looked at our meeting, some people weren’t going up much at all, but unfortunately, it was a small snapshot,” Battaglia said.
Dan Lynch questioned how the Department came up with the values, especially with values in Indiana County differing.
As opposed to typical assessments, residents approved for the Clean and Green tax abatement are assessed annually – based on 1940 rates. More than 200,000 acres of Armstrong County property are affected.
A government budget report by the Pennsylvania General Assembly shows that if assessed without preferential assessement, those property values affected would rise seven percent with a total of more than $100 in reduction of taxes based on property assessed at $100,000. Some land owners taxes would decrease up to $140.
Battaglia said his most important concern is finding out if all those currently in the Clean and Green program should be, and that his decision has nothing to do with politics.
“To me, the most important thing we can do before we can raise values for people who are on it legitimately is to make sure everybody’s on that map should be on that map,” Battaglia said.
Commissioner Fink said this in some areas has been a long-standing problem, and he has heard from many of his neighbors about the tax rates.
“Adjusting the Clean and Green rates isn’t new,” Fink said, nothing that the County Commissioners of Pennsylvania recommended each county analyze the rates thoroughly. “This needs to be fixed.”
Others ask that the Clean and Green rates be instituted incrementally.
Based on a 2010 fiscal impact report by the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee in the Pennsylvania General Assembly, a dozen Armstrong County municipalities had preferential assessments greater than 10 percent of true assessed value. Burrell Township was the most at 24 percent with Wayne Township at 19 percent and Atwood Borough, Cowanshannock Township and Wayne Township at 15 percent each.
Commissioners are to meet with the County’s legal counsel to analyze ramifications of their decision before the November 15 deadline. They also want to hear from those not part of the Clean and Green program to get their views.
Action can be delayed up to one year.