NEWS

Committee haggles on tax collection method

PAT FRIDGEN
Tim Sollenberger, David Jamison and Jason Cohen worked on bylaws for the new Franklin County Tax Collection Committee. They met with Arnie Jansen, representing the Greencastle-Antrim School District, and Bill Needy, representing Antrim Townhship, to create governing rules for a county-wide earned income tax collection agency.

The bylaws panel of the Franklin County Tax Collection Committee was at odds on whether a Request For Proposal should be issued to find a competitive tax collection agency. What the five members thought would be a traditional meeting to review 30 pages of guidelines Dec. 9 stretched into four hours, with the last hour devoted to the contentious idea.

The FCTCC was formed in the wake of Act 32 of 2008, which requires counties to consolidate into one Earned Income Tax collection agency, rather than one per municipality and school district. As such, Franklin County jurisdictions appointed 25 delegates to a new EIT committee, with as many alternates, and the groundwork is being laid prior to the full law taking effect in January 2012. The Department of Community and Economic Development helped draft the legislation to make the system more efficient.

The FCTCC bylaws group was named during the first EIT meeting in October. The members met at the Antrim Township municipal building last week to examine proposed language, adapted by Mercersburg borough manager Jason Cohen from a draft composed by DCED. Also present were Arnie Jansen, Greencastle-Antrim School District; Bill Needy, Antrim Township; David Jamison, Greene Township; and Tim Sollenberger, St. Thomas Township.

Along with the controversy to put out an RFP or stick with the Chambersburg Wage Tax Bureau for the duties, the bylaws panel spent time deciding how large and small entities could work fairly together to the benefit of all the taxpayers. Weighted votes and fiscal responsibilities topped that list. All recommendations on the bylaws will be voted on by the greater FCTCC in January.

To RFP or not RFP

Jamison was the lone holdout to advertising the tax service to private firms. As chairman of the Greene Township Board of Supervisors, he is also chair of the bylaws panel, the FCTCC, and the Chambersburg Wage Tax Bureau board of directors.

Currently Greene, St. Thomas and Mercersburg use the CWTB to process their EIT taxes. CWTB rents space from the Chambersburg-Area School District.

Jansen and Needy pushed for the open market to find an agency to handle the taxes. "We don't want any suggestion of a marriage with Chambersburg," said Needy.

Cohen, Jamison and Sollenberger were reluctant, in case a new provider didn't work out. "Mercersburg's concern is if we abandon the current process for a private company and it goes sour, we have to start over with the infrastructure," said Cohen.

Sollenberger said CWTB would have to reformat its procedures to be competitive, including hiring staff and setting new salaries. Jansen favored the bureau streamlining, if necessary, possibly saving the taxing authorities significant money in fees. Of the one percent EIT levied, each municipality and school district receives one-half percent. The less paid out in fees would mean more in their coffers. Additionally, because some municipalities use CWTB to collect their Local Services Tax, that would have to be included into any formula determining fees, the bylaws panel agreed.

Jansen and Needy wanted the option of an RFP included in the bylaws so the FCTCC could act on the information. The contract would be very specific on policy and procedures. "I want the best bang for my buck," Needy said. A retired school district business manager, he added, "G-ASD went after delinquent taxes. That's what I want to see."

Jamison was unconvinced. "I'm not going to put out something that is dead on arrival." He expected the FCTCC to vote it down.

Jansen wasn't so sure, believing the school districts wanted an RFP.

Sollenberger thought it was acceptable to put the RPF section in the bylaws and Cohen agreed it had merit. "Why do ourselves a disservice by not putting it in?" he asked. "It will come up anyway. We don't want to appear we're trying to avoid it."

What to weigh

Because the 25 taxing authorities represented different populations, the panel sought fairness in committee votes and in covering administrative expenses. They decided a quorum for a meeting would be a simple majority, or 13, but a supermajority, or two-thirds of the delegates, should approve whatever bylaws are adopted. Expenses should be paid out on a weighted scale, with the largest taxing bodies paying the largest share of administration costs. Those bodies were the Chambersburg, Greencastle-Antrim and Waynesboro school districts. Chambersburg would generate the greatest amount of work and time for the collection agency.

"We're not putting the weighted vote at the mercy of the weighted vote itself," Cohen explained.

The five tried to achieve a method of checks and balances for all procedures and recordkeeping, and concurred the FCTCC needed a solicitor. They predicted a treasurer and Right to Know Officer would be elected, and were split on an executive director. Jansen said one would not have to be hired if the host collection bureau managed its own employees and the FCTCC could oversee everything.

The panel debated how to inform the public of its meetings, because the constituents were in a broad geographical base. They hoped each jurisdiction would post the dates on their websites, but one or more newspapers would be needed to run the legal advertisements.

The bylaws must be sent to Harrisburg in April.