Tuesday, May 26, 2009

PA considering role in real estate property tax assessments

A recent decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court forcing Allegheny County to reassess real estate property values has highlighted an issue that has angered many property owners across the state. The ruling states that the base year system for property values, with no set review interval, is unconstitutional because it doesn't accommodate changes in property values over time. Currently, property value reassessment is handled at the county level and is done at irregular intervals. Butler County for example hasn’t reassessed in 40 years. Since reassessment often means an expense to the county and an increase in property taxes (thus raising the ire of the tax payers), it is not something counties are eager to do to often.

State Representative John Yudichak (D) has a plan to fix these issues and bring equity to the assessment of property values across the state. An article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette gives details on a proposal he’s working on to create a State Office of Reassessment. He understands the difficulties in reassessment as his county – Luzerne – recently reassessed at a cost of $9 million. The county hadn’t been reassessed in 40 years and now many residents are taking the county to court to fight the higher taxes. Yudichak believes that a state wide standard for reassessments would alleviate some of the inherent problems of the current system. “We are trying to achieve fairness with property valuation, higher taxes aren’t the goal” he’s quoted as saying in the article. His is an idea that seems to be gaining momentum. The principle of his idea seems to have wide spread support; including Governor Rendell’s office, Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, and even Republicans such as Bucks County’s Scott Petri. There is some concern whether it can be done legislatively though. The Legislative Budget and Finance Committee has been asked to study what other states have done and make recommendations.

If you feel your property has been unfairly assessed, please contact us to make sure your rights in real estate law are being represented.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

PA Unemployment and Claims Dip, Forced Furlough May Be Cause Though

34,000 people filed for unemployment benefit claims last week, which is down from 36,000 in the previous week. Still, more than 364,000 residents of Pennsylvania continued to receive unemployment compensation benefits. While that figures shows an overall drop about about 7,000 from the previous week, it is worthy to note that these figures are still twice as high as they were at this time last year.

One possible reason for the drop in unemployment numbers and unemployment compensation claims filed is the rise in the practice of forced furlough. Many Pennsylvania employers have used the furlough program as a cost-cutting measure for the company without actually breaking ties and terminating the employment of the worker. A furlough, in this respect, is an unpaid leave that the employee is forced to accept. David Smith from the Department of Labor and Industry, recently told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

"If workers are forced to take a furlough week, "They should file a claim right away, as soon as they experience the furlough," said Mr. Smith.

Signing up beginning with the first furlough week is important because the worker will be eligible for unemployment benefits during the next period of unpaid leave, as long as it occurs within the next 12 months.

Some people make the mistake of not signing up during that first week because they have been told there's no point since benefits aren't accrued until the second week of unemployment.

That's true, but the unemployment clock starts ticking after a claim is filed.

If someone doesn't file a claim until the second week of furlough, it's like the first week didn't count."

Even though the number of claims have dropped slightly, there is still a tremendous burden on the state's unemployment compensation fund and they have been forced to borrow more money to cover claims. While this is providing immediate relief to workers, it will carry a long term burden of having employers face higher tax rates to pay back the Federal loans.

While the situation appears dire, it is important for workers who feel they have an unemployment or workers compensation claim are aware that there is still funding for them and should not be discouraged. Employers, including cities and states, take out unemployment and workers compensation insurance coverage policies that ensure coverage.

Employers are not required to have legal representation in Unemployment Compensation cases..However, to ensure that you are adequately represented, and are exploring all possible options of entitlement, it is recommended that you seek council or adequate representation that will represent your best interests. The staff at Wolf, Baldwin and Associates is available to you to discuss your legal options during these times. If you feel that you may need representation, you are free to contact us.