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Metcalfe tax plan draws debate

| Saturday, Feb. 1, 2003

The rift between state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe and elected officials in the largest municipality in his district continues to grow.

Metcalfe, a Republican from Cranberry, introduced legislation Tuesday to eliminate property taxes, but Cranberry supervisors question the plan.

"The state budgets are in a bind now. How difficult will it be for municipalities to get their money from the state?" Supervisor John Milius asked. "Don't leave it to the state to determine how the municipality should be managed."

Metcalfe's legislation, if passed, would phase out property taxes over six years. In the first three years, the school district property tax would be removed, and the personal income tax would be increased from 2.8 percent to 4.3 percent while the state sales tax would climb from 6 to 9 percent. According to his plan, in years four through six the municipalities would increase their earned income tax and personal income tax.

Metcalfe's plan also would allow taxpayers to vote on any tax rate increases.

"People need relief, but this is not the way to get it done," Cranberry Supervisor Chuck Caputy said.

Milius said he wonders whether the additional sales tax money going to the state once the property tax was removed would filter back to the municipality. If not, he said, the lack of money would be "further eroding our ability to manage the municipality."

"We have programs we are trying to provide, and our hands are being tied by proposals like this," Milius said.

Cranberry manager Jerry Andree said any change in the amount of money a municipality gets would have "serious impacts on our ability to provide day-to-day services."

Dean Berkebile, president of the Seneca Valley School Board, said he had not seen Metcalfe's latest plan, but earlier proposals to lift the property tax would have made it difficult for the district to operate.

Metcalfe said he is not surprised elected municipal leaders and school board members would be against the removal of property taxes.

"They see property tax as an unlimited pool," Metcalfe said. "They are concerned they would lose the uncontrolled bureaucracy that they have at school districts and in Cranberry."

Supervisor Bill Ambrass said he did not think voter referendums work well for local governments.

"He proposes legislation like this every year, and he seems to get farther every year," Ambrass said.

In a bitter and expensive campaign for the District 12 seat, Metcalfe defeated Connoquenessing Township Democrat Linda Schoettker. During that race, Republican township supervisors Milius and Caputy and Ambrass, the board of supervisors' lone Democrat, endorsed Schoettker for the seat.

"Directors and supervisors are part of the problem for increasing government costs," Metcalfe said. "The leaders are opposed to referendums because they want to continue to grow government and grow costs."

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