Third local taxing body debates per capita tax

PAT FRIDGEN

What to do about the per capita tax was on the front burner for Antrim Township last week. Supervisors had to ponder what action to take, based on a vote of the Greencastle-Antrim School Board on Feb. 7. By a 6-2 margin, the board eliminated the tax, which resulted in a $134,000 revenue loss for the school district, equal to one-half mill of real estate taxes.

The school district also lost $25,000 when the Borough of Greencastle dropped the tax in December, and added another.

Because the per capita tax is jointly assessed on one bill for $15, the vote of one body affected the finances of the other. The borough and the township collected $5 from each per capita tax payment from its residents, and the remaining $10 went to the school.

The per capita tax is collected from every resident age 18 and over. Students and certain handicapped people are exempt. The local tax collectors are Barbara Bock for Greencastle, and Sue Myers for Antrim Township. Both have offices in Greencastle.

Voting rationale

Borough council eliminated the tax because it was under the impression that it had to, after adopting a $52 local services tax in November.

The local services tax is processed through the Franklin County Area Tax Bureau.

Council learned later that the two taxes were unrelated. Then-borough manager Kenneth Womack expected the repeal to stay in place, even though the borough lost $12,000 of revenue. The local services tax is a new version of the occupational privilege tax, which was for $10.

Since Greencastle did not levy that one in the past, the school district kept the entire $10. With the new local services tax, the school gets only $5 from each collected bill.

The school board dropped the per capita tax because it considered it a nuisance to collect. Business manager Jolinda Wilson said the cost of collection was 28 percent.

Antrim administrator Brad Graham was notified about the results of the school board vote. "I understand they had to make a decision for what was best for them. I was a little surprised to hear they did it."

The action would cost Antrim its share, which in the adopted 2013 budget was $45,000. "We don't have a good place to make that up," Graham said.

The supervisors on Feb. 12 addressed the tax.

"We need to take a fair amount of time to discuss this," Graham told them.

He said the school district had paid the bulk of the expenses in collecting the per capita tax, and Antrim's share was only four percent of what it brought in. The budget allowed $2,000 in collection fees. Antrim also helped Myers with the cost of computer repairs. The school district provided the printing, envelopes, postage, reminder notices, a database and an in-house assistant.

Myers explained the results of her three years in the elected tax collector position. In 2010, $53,000 was due for Antrim and $44,000 was collected. In 2011 the respective numbers were $52,000 and $50,000; and in 2012, which is ongoing, $52,000 and $39,000. She added that G.H. Harris, the agency that pursued delinquent bills, recovered 80 percent of what was owed. It's people even went door-to-door.

"We work hard to get that money for you," said Myers.

Antrim considerations

Myers submitted a bundle of papers to the township, which contained the Local Tax Enabling Act from 1965, and the Local Tax Collection Law from 1945. She thought since the school district dropped out of the per capita tax, that Antrim could collect the maximum of $10 per resident.

Antrim solicitor John Lisko was almost positive the law allowed the shift. Graham said the increase would cover the higher cost of collection.

Supervisors Rick Baer, James Byers, Fred Young III and Pat Heraty wanted to see the numbers before they made a decision. John Alleman was absent.

Resident Connie Slye favored keeping the per capita tax, or else the burden shifted to property owners, rather than allowing every adult to contribute.

Tax collector job

Myers would like the tax retained. She said her office provided personal service to those who need it most - first-time home buyers, people moving to Pennsylvania, and the elderly. She also handled requests on a daily basis from banks, mortgage companies and settlement companies. She provided her own office space, equipment and supplies. She also aided taxpayers filing for property tax/rent rebates.

She believed a centralized tax collector could not provide the service she did as a member of the community.

"A surprising number of people pay their taxes in cash, because they don't have a checking account. Cash can't be sent through the mail.

“Money orders are often refused these days. Not everyone has a credit card. How will they pay their taxes?"