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North Hills

Pine-Richland officials consider merits of Homestead Property Tax Assessment Exclusion

| Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017, 9:00 p.m.

Members of the Pine-Richland School Board discussed the proposed Constitutional Amendment regarding the Homestead Property Tax Assessment Exclusion on the ballot this November during the Oct. 23 general meeting.

The question reads: “Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to permit the General Assembly to enact legislation authorizing local taxing authorities to exclude from taxation up to 100 percent of the assessed value of each homestead property within a local taxing jurisdiction, rather than limit the exclusion to one-half of the median assessed value of all homestead property, which is the existing law?”

President Jeff Banyas brought the discussion during the board business segment of the meeting in the hopes of helping voters better understand what they may be voting for or against on Nov. 7.

Board member Dennis Sundo said that if the question is fully understood by a voter, he doesn't see why the voter would choose no.

“However, I think if the voter thinks that this is coming down the pike any time soon — meaning money in their pocket — there's no funding source for it. They're basically doubling the cap, and nobody has reached that cap yet anyway. So I think yes, it sounds good, I would vote yes to it, but I certainly don't expect any additional help with my real estate taxes in the foreseeable future as a result of this referendum.”

Board member Peter Lyons agreed that it did sound good and suspects it will pass, but he isn't certain he'll vote for it himself.

“The problem with it is that it sounds good in some ways in that it removes an obstacle that exists in the Pennsylvania Constitution right now, so basically it would give the legislature the ability to enact a 100 percent homestead exemption,” he said. “So if you live in your house they can exempt your residence 100 percent from property taxes, which actually right now is apparently — I didn't know this — contrary to the Pennsylvania Constitution. So that sounds like a good thing. The issue I have is that it just raises questions. Anytime someone wants to give me money but they haven't cut expenses means they're just reaching around into the other pocket, and I'd like to know what pocket they're reaching into.”

Banyas said one of the things that bothers him about it is that while the idea of potentially eliminating property taxes sounds really nice, as Lyons suggested, there's no provision for making up the funding any other way.

“Which means that if all property taxes are excluded it has to be replaced at some point with something, sales taxes and income taxes being high on the list,” he said. “Whenever this community has evaluated property taxes vis-a-vis income taxes and changing from property to income taxes it has been a loser for most of our taxpayers.”

Banyas also speculated that the amendment could open the door for Senate Bill 76, currently being debated, to pass and potentially give Harrisburg greater control of districts and remove local control over money collected.

“That's my reason for not liking this law too much, and it's worded so cryptically that it's very hard to see that coming,” Banyas said. “I think this is important for our community to understand what they're voting for.”

Karen Price is a Tribune-Review contributor.

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