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Elizabeth Forward trash privilege tax may break new ground

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Tuesday, April 29, 2014, 4:16 a.m.

Elizabeth Forward School District may be breaking new ground with its operations privilege tax on garbage hauled into the Kelly Run landfill in Forward Township.

State officials and lobbying organizations alike have little to say about the resolution authorizing a levy of “$3 per ton (or) three cubic yards of volume measured of residual waste” that is scheduled to take effect on May 23.

Pennsylvania School Boards Association general counsel Stuart L. Knade declined comment, while calls were not returned by the Pennsylvania Waste Industries Association representing private-sector waste haulers and landfill operators.

According to the act passed last week by Elizabeth Forward's school board, the district “is empowered by the Local Tax Enabling Act.”

The state Department of Community and Economic Development's taxation manual said some townships and school districts levied taxes on landfill operators under authority of the Local Tax Enabling Act up until 1988.

“In 1981 Smith Township, Washington County, levied a 10 percent tax on the gross receipts of the operators of sanitary landfills and chemical, liquid waste or other refuse disposal facilities,” the manual said. “In 1983, Carroll Township, Washington County, levied a 10 percent landfill business privilege tax” that apparently covered any dump, not just sanitary landfills.

Act 101 of 1988, otherwise known as the Municipal Waste Planning, Recycling and Waste Reduction Act, stopped any further imposition of landfill privilege taxes while establishing a host municipality benefit fee of $1 per ton.

“(Act 101) pre-empts and supersedes any tax on landfills or resource recovery facilities above the rate in effect on Dec. 31, 1987,” the DCED manual said. “No new landfill privilege taxes may be enacted.”

Forward has a $1.30-per-ton fee based on that 1988 state law. Like the tax passed by the school district it affects a landfill along Route 51 that has an average daily intake of 1,250 tons.

Spokespersons for DCED and two state cabinet departments were unable to answer questions about Elizabeth Forward's situation when contacted last week.

“Questions on school board taxing authority should be forwarded to the Department of Education or the Department of Community and Economic Development,” Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Lisa Kasianowitz said. “DEP does not have enough information about the matter to offer any comment.”

Education spokesman Timothy Eller suggested that DCED could answer those questions.

“We don't have an expert here that can speak to this,” DCED spokeswoman Lyndsay Kensinger said. “This would absolutely be a (Department of Education) question.”

The tax enacted last week would be collected quarterly on July 15, Oct. 15, Jan. 15 and April 15. It is an apparent bid to avoid increasing real estate taxes in order to cover what, as of last month, was an anticipated $2.3 million budget shortfall for 2014-15.

“This is a user tax,” Elizabeth Forward school board president Philip Martell said. “It is better than raising property taxes on families and senior citizens.”

“They just picked a number out of the sky,” Forward supervisor board chairman Tom DeRosa said. He called it stupid and suggested that Waste Management should sue the school district.

Waste Management Pittsburgh area spokeswoman Erika Deyarmin said her company has no comment “until we are able to further analyze the situation.”

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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