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Hampton officials hold meeting on property tax reform

| Monday, March 6, 2017, 4:30 p.m.

Some lawmakers in Pennsylvania want to eliminate property taxes as a way to fund school districts, but support is not widespread, according to information presented at a special session hosted by Hampton Township school officials.

The so-called Property Tax Independence Act would eliminate school district funding via property taxes and partly finance them through increases in the state sales and personal income taxes, according to a presentation by Jamie Baxter, director of legislative policy and advocacy from the Allegheny Intermediate Unit.

School board President Bryant Wesley said if the bill is enacted “It would dramatically affect the way public education is funded.”

Similar bills have been introduced in the past, but Baxter said “proactive advocacy” blocked them.

After presenting details of the bill – including its possible implications — she said it could be enacted by July. She added there are no specifics as to when it will be rolled out to districts.

Hampton Superintendent Michael Loughead said the district will count on Baxter to provide information as the bill progresses in Harrisburg.

“Our goal is to keep everyone informed and provide information to the community to educate them,” said Loughead.

The bill seeks to increase the state sales tax from six percent to seven and add to the list of taxable items. The income tax would rise from 3.07 percent to 4.95 percent, said Baxter.

She said the sales tax expansion could be applied to new categories — diapers, food, personal hygiene products, daycare or public transportation among other things.

Property taxes would be entirely eliminated, as local and county taxes would continue. Also, districts still will be required to tax for debt, which includes Hampton.

Funds collected will go to state and then sent to districts based on what they collect in property taxes. Hampton currently collects $33 million in property taxes, according to Baxter's presentation.

She said the bill reduces local control of districts. In order to obtain extra funding, school boards would have to place public referendum on a ballot and the voters would have to approve it.

In addition, businesses will not pay property taxes. Hampton currently receives approximately $3.5 million in commercial tax revenue.

“I'm not saying that property tax is the right way to fund schools … all I know is that this proposal is not the way,” said Baxter.

Kyle Baker, a Hampton resident with three children in the district, said he can see both sides of the argument, especially in regard to changing property taxes. But maybe not this version.

“Kick it around and come back to the drawing board,” he said. “This proposal doesn't leave much to be excited about.”

Mike Sullivan, a father of four in Hampton, currently has a child at Poff Elementary.

“I'm not a real fan of this proposal,” he said, adding it takes “less control” from the school.

A copy of the meeting's presentation is available on the Hampton school website.

Natalie Beneviat is a Tribune-Review contributor.

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