Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Dan Onorato Record On Property Taxes, In Photographs, Video -- And An Elegant Tea House

Few Allegheny County residents will ever see the splendid home constructed 15 years ago at 710 Bending Oak Lane (in part because it is secluded among seven and one-half wooded acres along a dead-end road in Fox Chapel).

The Post-Gazette recently gave the less-fortunate public a glimpse -- glowing article, photographs and flattering video -- of the rarified life to be experienced at this extraordinary property.

Five bedrooms, 8,000 square feet. Meticulously landscaped grounds. Two stocked koi ponds. Floating fireplace. Non-fenestrated front facade (Gretchen McKay's words). A groundskeeper's cottage and in-laws' quarters. A tea house (whatever it is, it has two bedrooms and two bathrooms).

The Post-Gazette reports an asking price of $3.8 million for this property. (The video identifies the price as $4 million, but in this neighborhood, a couple of hundred thousand dollars is not so much a mistake as a rounding error.)

The Allegheny County assessment directory indicates, however, that this property's owner pays taxes on $1.41 million in property value -- a discount approximating 70 percent. Translation in dollars: An undercharge approximating $10,000 on county taxes each year -- and a corresponding discount on municipal and school taxes that likely approximates $40,000. Annually.

When Dan Onorato (or one of his shills) boasts about his stewardship of property taxes in Allegheny County, this is the unconstitutionally unfair, regressive system he implemented and defends -- overcharging a hundred residents of $40,000 properties for years so that one property owner can receive a windfall of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Even if the seller must take a million dollars less than the asking price for his magnificent Fox Chapel estate, the property tax discount -- for many years -- has been at least 50 percent. Still, hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax obligations transferred to less-affluent property owners.

One hopes the owner was courteous enough to thank Mr. Onorato, perhaps with a check for his campaign.


Vannevar said...

So, I've got to ask. Who owns the house?

Anonymous said...

damien soffer. Check out the county property assessment web site. Is he the developer that has gotten a ton of money for projects like the south side works?

Infinonymous said...

The owner of this property is not unique. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of other examples, some more egregious than this. This one was spotlighted merely because the Post-Gazette featured the property recently.

If the county executive continues to boast about his property tax record, an Infinalysis of 10 or 20 obscenely underassessed properties might be appropriate.

Or perhaps the Post-Gazette could spring someone from the crucial "drool-worthy properties" beat and spend a day or two compiling a list of properties, sale/asking prices, assessed values, tax undercharges, and any interesting relationships involving beneficiaries?

Anonymous said...

neither dan or corbett can say you play favorites. gotta assume you don't plan on voting for either one of these jokers?

Anonymous said...

That property, as nice as it is, will plummet in value (by Pittsburgh standards) when the reassessments take place.

Who is going to spend $3+ million on a "contemporary" home when they can afford to build exactly what they want?

Infinonymous said...

A reassessment should accomplish several things, but creation of new 8-acre wooded lots just down the road from Fox Chapel Golf Club is not likely to be one of them.

A Realtor might have a different view.

Ms. Monongahela, Ms. Chief Editor said...

It's not hard to find a house purchased in Fox Chapel for $750,000 and a property owner who has been getting away with paying taxes on an appraisal of $500,000. Or the same in Squirrel Hill. It's pretty damn insane.

I'm not defending Mr. Wishy-Washy, but is Dan Onorato the only person to blame here?

For example, aren't the owners who KNOW they're getting away with a free ride culpable? Just like people getting free cable? You know it's not right. But you keep taking it for free anyway.

Vannevar said...

First, regarding my prev question as to the owner, I was just wondering if it was interesting - I understand that it's an example of the trend rather than a unique case.

I'd like to see (somewhere) a series of side-by-side's: show the McManse underappraised and undertaxed with the owner's income, and show me the widow/retiree on a fixed income that's overappraised and overtaxed.

How many widows does it take to make up for the one McMansion?

That would be a legit Pulitzer candidate. Working Title for the Series: "Who's Winning, Who's Losing in Real Estate Appraisals"

Kudos to Infi, as always.

illyrias said...

Here's a great place to start if you're looking for places that are over-taxed:

Many of these properties are assessed in the $40K to $60K range but listed for less than $10K. There's even one that has a 2009 assessment of $98,200, but is on the chopping block for a measly $29,900 this year.

Anonymous said...

Onorato only cares about himself - what he did with the base year actually hurt more than it helped - wait till the reassessments come out - I expect anarchy

Conservative Mountaineer said...

Yet, no one has the b*lls to strongly recommend abolishment of the Real Estate Tax in favor of a pure income-based tax.. an income-based tax that is based on ALL income - earned (W-2) income and pensions (just because you're retired doesn't mean you don't consume/expect county/school/municipal services)... write in the State Consitution...

Real Estate Taxes are based on SUBJECTIVE amount, income-based taxes are based on an OBJECTIVE amount...

But then that would mean alot of people, including many 100's of County employees in every County would lose their phoney-baloney government Union patronage job... and School Boards (read: Teachers Unions) would lose some clout (read: Teacher's strikes).

I say... Good. Bring it on.

Conservative Mountaineer said...

It's real easy for Dan "The Tax Man" to calim what he's claiming.. he's just 'kicking the can down the road' like most every politician has and will do.

I hope I'm the h*ll out of PA when the ***t hits the fan.. ~2 years and counting..