Some park model trailer owners vow to fight tax
Kevin Adams just wanted a small seasonal home along the Allegheny River where he could get some rest and relaxation on the weekends. "It's my vacation," he said.
But the Kittanning jewelry store owner got more than he bargained for when Armstrong County assessors sent him a permanent-residence tax bill for his less than 400 square-foot, Pennsylvania Department of Motor Vehicles-licensed, park model-style trailer that he keeps at a campground near Reesedale in Washington Township.
County officials have sent notices to about a dozen owners of park model trailers, basing their decision to start taxing the trailers as residences on a 1998 court case in Clinton County.
"It's ridiculous what they're trying to do," Adams said. "They (county officials) are wanting this county to become a recreational hub. This goes against that."
By definition, park model trailers are smaller -- less than 400 square feet, and less-insulated than manufactured houses. They are considered movable cottages, upscale only in appearance, licensed as personal property like cars or boats and intended for temporary or recreational use.
Adams has 30 amps of power to his moveable recreational trailer; a 40-gallon propane tank for cooking and heating; a water line buried a foot underground and hooked up to the trailer with a garden hose -- water cannot be left on year-round; and a flexible hose to connect to a sewer line. He is at the trailer about 20 to 30 days out of a year.
"So, it cannot be a permanent residence," Adams said. "They're taxing something we're not living in. And how can the county tax something we're paying a license fee on• They don't tax your automobile."
Adams bought his park model trailer in 1991 for $20,000. Vehicles generally depreciate, however, the recent assessment by the county was for $23,000. His fall school district tax bill is more than $600. The county taxes come due in the spring.
Adams plans to appeal.
"I haven't sent the payment yet," Adams said. "I'll be paying it under protest."
Another park model trailer owner, Jim Davidson of North Buffalo is organizing other owners to challenge the tax.
His trailer is parked in a small campground along the Allegheny River in Rayburn Township.
"Other counties have tried to do this and failed," Davidson said. "It's a vehicle, I'm sorry, I don't make the laws."
"Armstrong County is just looking for money," he said. "They're calling it real estate. It's an RV in a campground. It depreciates. They're adding for inflation. It's used two or three months in a park. It's not a permanent home."
Michael Renosky, Armstrong County's chief assessor, said the assessment office started taxing park model trailers this year.
"There was a court case in Clinton County a few years ago that allowed counties to assess park model homes," Renosky said. "A judge ruled counties can assess recreational or seasonal park model homes. Our solicitor researched it and interpreted it the same way."
"They're left there year round," Renosky said. "The intent is for them to be there permanently."
About 12 park model trailers have been assessed and notices sent out, and another six recently were identified and are being evaluated, Renosky said.
"Our assessors are finding them all of the time," Renosky said.
Most of the owners have filed an appeal with the local appeal board, he said.
"If they're not satisfied with the appeal board's decision, they can go to Commonwealth Court," Renosky said.
In 1997, the county assessed Davidson's park model trailer that he paid $8,700 for and he won an appeal then. The recent assessment for the same trailer is $20,000 including a $650 tax bill.
"I will not pay the tax, ever," Davidson said.
Armstrong County Commissioner Rich Fink agrees with assessing park model trailers.
Fink said the park models are bigger, nicer and more elaborate with more add-ons than traditional recreational trailers. They are hooked up permanently and are not moved from place to place, he said.
"When a single mom living in an older, less-elaborate 10-foot-by-50-foot mobile home is charged taxes, it's not fair not to tax park model trailers," Fink said.