Benjamin Franklin once wrote “nothing is certain except death and taxes.” While this famous quote still rings true, there are a few valuable exceptions. Under Article 8, Section 2 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, the General Assembly may enact laws exempting certain properties from taxation. For instance, Section 204(a)(2) of the General County Assessment Law (the “Act”) provides that “[a]ll actual places of burial, including burial grounds and all mausoleums, vaults, crypts or structures intended to hold or contain the bodies of the dead” shall be exempt from all county, city, borough, town, township, road, poor and school tax. In addition to cemeteries, there are 12 other types of properties that are exempt under Section 204(a) of the Act.

However, while a portion of a property may be exempt from taxation under Section 204, other portions of the same property may not. The extent of a property’s exemption depends on the specific language employed in Section 204. Indeed, whereas Section 204(a)(2) exempts “actual places of burial”, Section 204(a)(1) exempts “churches, meeting-houses, or other actual places of regularly stated religious worship, with the ground thereto annexed necessary for the occupancy and enjoyment of the same.” Other exemptions under Section 204(a) include similar language that can make it difficult to pinpoint the extent of a property’s exemption. That said, it is clear that the use of all portions of the property must be considered, and not only the use of buildings or improvements.

Continue Reading “Nothing is certain except death and taxes”… unless a Pennsylvania Tax Exemption Applies

In an effort to preserve agricultural and forest land, Pennsylvania passed The Pennsylvania Farmland and Forest Land Assessment Act of 1974, also known as Clean and Green. Clean and Green provides qualified parcels of land with preferential assessment values, resulting in lower property taxes for the landowner. A Clean and Green qualified parcel generally must be more than 10 acres in size and devoted to agricultural use, agricultural reserve (i.e. open spaces used for outdoor recreation), or forest reserve. Rather than appraising the parcel based off of its Fair Market Value, Clean and Green allows the Department of Agriculture (DOA) to value parcels based on their use. The DOA provides county assessment offices with a list of use values annually. Each county’s assessment office is allowed to provide for lower assessment values for Clean and Green qualified parcels, but may not assess a parcel higher than the use values provided by the DOA. Currently, Pennsylvania has more than 9.3 million of its total 29 million (~32%) acres of land enrolled in Clean and Green.

While Clean and Green assists many Pennsylvania farmers that may otherwise face financial struggles, the program also disincentivizes those landowners from changing the use of their land or selling it for non-agricultural purposes. In the event a landowner violates the Clean and Green covenants or elects to remove the parcel from the program, the landowner is subject to up to seven years of rollback taxes at a 6 % interest rate per year (or, if the parcel was enrolled in Clean and Green for less than seven years, rollback taxes for the number of years the parcel was enrolled). Rollback taxes generally means the amount of taxes that would have been paid had the parcel not been enrolled in Clean and Green, less the taxes due by virtue of the program. In the event the parcel is sold to a third party, rollback taxes will not become automatically due because of the sale itself. If, however, a third party purchases the parcel and changes its use, the parcel—thus, the third-party purchaser—can become subject to the rollback tax penalty.

Continue Reading Clean & Green & Sometimes…Mean?

When purchasing, selling, or developing real estate, business owners should be attentive to the market value of their property. Put simply, market value is “the price a purchaser, who is willing, but not obliged to buy, would pay an owner, willing, but not obliged to sell, taking into consideration all uses to which the property is adapted and might in reason be applied.” Not only does market value drive transactions, but valuations are also integral for those seeking a mortgage. If the property is being used as collateral, market value will determine the amount of credit given to an individual. Further, market value factors into the amount of property tax charged on a portion of property.

Pennsylvania appraisers use three methods to arrive at a property’s market value: 1) the Sales Comparison Approach (SCA); 2) the Cost Approach Method (CAM); and 3) the Income Approach (IA). No one method is an exact science, and there are benefits and detriments to each based on the differing characteristics of your property.

Continue Reading What’s Your Property Worth? How Pennsylvania Appraisers Calculate the Market Value of Real Estate

If you attend municipal meetings regularly (like yours truly), you know that stormwater management is a frequent topic of discussion and debate. Simply put, stormwater is the precipitation which flows off impervious surfaces during a weather event rather than infiltrating into the ground. Naturally, development of any type changes stormwater infiltration and runoff patterns. In today’s world, even small construction projects
Continue Reading Grab Your Umbrella- Here Comes the Rain (Tax)

With the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (“TCJA”), developers and water and wastewater companies see the return of a tax policy that has significant consequences for both groups.  This is the first post in a two-post series discussing the history of “Advances” and “CIAC” and the practical effect of the TCJA on construction, dedication and utilization of water lines in Pennsylvania.  In short, the cost of doing business just increased for developers, while water companies once again are saddled with additional work.  This post provides background and history while a second post will provide insight on working through the issues.
Continue Reading Developers Beware! Water Lines May Cost More Due To The Tax Cut And Jobs Act – Part 1