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RODERICK RANDOM: Candidates Cook Math In Anti-assessment Ad

May 4, 2019

Higher taxes rile up voters and Patrick O’Malley knows it.

With fewer than three weeks before the primary election, O’Malley, an incumbent Democratic commissioner, and his running mate, Debi Domenick, went on the attack this week with a new television commercial. The commercial warns voters the other Democratic ticket, Commissioner Jerry Notarianni and George Kelly, favor a countywide reassessment of properties that will lead to massive tax hikes.

The commercial cited an April 11 Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article. The ad’s narrator claims “75% of residential property taxes increased up to 40%” after a reassessment in Philadelphia.

As the narrator speaks, the ad’s graphic message says “75%of residentail (sic) properties increased by over 40%.”

We’ll get to the claim about higher taxes in a moment.

First, the word “residential” is misspelled “residentail.” In this era of computers that check spelling, this typo looks quite silly and reinforces beliefs about O’Malley he doesn’t want reinforced.

Now, look at the narrator’s quote and the graphic message.

The narrator says “residential property taxes increased up to 40%.”

The graphic says “residentail (sic) properties increased by over 40%.”

The first means no more than 40 percent, the second means more than 40 percent.

So which is it? The ad never says. Neither does the Inquirer story, which never mentions 40% anywhere.

This quote is from the actual Inquirer story:

“More than 345,000 residential properties — three-quarters of the total — are getting assessment increases next year, according to the city’s 2020 assigned market values. Citywide, the median assessment of single-family homes will increase by 3.1 percent, according to an Inquirer analysis.”

Because the tax rates weren’t lowered after the reassessment in Philadelphia, a higher assessment automatically means higher taxes.

Three-quarters is the same as 75%, but median means the assessment of a property that falls exactly in the middle of the assessments of all single-family homes. So that means half the 345,000 residential properties have assessments and taxes that will rise less than 3.1% and half will rise more than 3.1%.

That 3.1% median increase for 2020 is on top of a 10.5% median assessment increase for 2019. Compounded, that means the median assessment rose 13.9%from 2018 to 2020. That’s nowhere close to the 40% the O’Malley-Domenick commercial claims.

In some Philadelphia neighborhoods, the assessments did rise by more than 40%, which means taxes rose by that much, too. In Point Breeze, according to the Inquirer, the median assessment rose 54.3% from 2018 to 2020,but that’s just one neighborhood. One neighborhood is far from 75% of all residential properties. In fact, the story quotes a city spokesman who says more than 95% of assessment increases will be less than 10%.

For about 80,000 Philadelphia homeowners, property taxes will go down — by up to 22.8% — because their assessments went down, the Inquirer reported.

The other big difference between Philadelphia and other counties is that part about reducing tax rates after an assessment. Philadelphia didn’t have to reduce tax rates, so anyone whose assessment went up also got a tax hike.

Reassessment will raise assessed property values for virtually every homeowner in Lackawanna County, but by law, the county will have to reduce tax rates to the point that tax revenues are the same as before the reassessment. Once the lowered rate is set, the county can only raise the rate enough to produce 10% more in revenues the first year it uses new property values.

Experts say some people’s taxes will go up after a reassessment, some will go down and some will stay about the same. The rule of thumb is about one-third for each category. Unlike Philadelphia, Lackawanna County has never planned to reassess each year.

Nuance gets lost in political advertising, especially when a commercial relies on inaccurate information.

The most accurate part of the commercial is that Notarianni and Kelly favor reassessment. They do. O’Malley opposes reassessment, especially after voters voted down the idea in 2017. Presumably, Domenick opposes it, too.

Missing Rowland

You won’t see Lackawanna County Coroner Tim Rowland’s name on county Democratic Party advertising backing its endorsed ticket.

In March, county Democrats endorsed Domenick and O’Malley for commissioner and Rowland, Controller Gary DiBileo, Clerk of Judicial Records Mauri Kelly and Treasurer Ed Karpovich for re-election.

Despite that, Rowland declined the endorsement and asked the party to keep his name out of its advertising. In a March 17 letter to Democratic Chairman Chris Patrick, Rowland said he has “an excellent working relationship” with O’Malley and Notarianni and fears it would look like he endorses O’Malley and not Notarianni.

He does “not wish to risk that relationship over a political endorsement.”

“This is the sole reason for my declining the endorsement,” he said, though he made it clear he favors the party not endorsing in primaries, especially in contested ones.

No disrespect to the Democratic Party, he wrote.

None taken, Patrick said Friday, though he said Rowland might have brought all of that up before he asked for the endorsement.

Not just for Mullins

Jim Rodway, the county Democratic Party’s 112th House District committee chairman and leader of its political action committee, wants to clarify a point in last week’s column, which said the PAC was devoted only to back state Rep. Kyle Mullins, D-112, Blakely. Though the PAC is named after Mullins’ district, it mailed 22,000 letters endorsing the entire Democratic ticket last fall.

“So there was a lot more than just set up for Kyle,” Rodway wrote in a text.

Point taken.

BORYS KRAWCZENIUK, The Times-Tribune’s politics reporter, writes Random Notes.