Pen­nridge de­bates pay for tax col­lec­tors

News-Herald (Perkasie, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Meghan Ross

The Pen­nridge School Board Fi­nance Com­mit­tee de­bated paying the district’s tax col­lec­tors a dif­fer­ence of 50 cents per bill at its meet­ing Tues­day, Jan. 15.

The cur­rent rate for the real es­tate tax col­lec­tors is $2.25 per bill. The at­tor­ney rep­re­sent­ing the tax col­lec­tors, Michael Savona, pro­posed in­creas­ing this rate to $4 per bill with a $1,500 stipend for two tax­ing dis­tricts that col­lect fewer than 1,000 bills. The to­tal stipend cost, then, would be $3,000.

The tax col­lec­tors have not re­ceived a pay in­crease in 12 years.

This is an elec­tion year for the tax col­lec­tors, who serve a fouryear term. The fi­nance com­mit­tee was tasked to agree on a rate the district would pay so the peo­ple run­ning for elec­tion would know what they would be com­pen­sated.

The Pen­nridge tax col­lec­tors’ com­pen­sa­tion rate had been cut by 69 per­cent back in 2009. Their pay dropped from $2.25 per tax bill to 70 cents. The tax col­lec­tors ap­pealed, and the case was sent to the state

Supreme Court, which sided with the tax col­lec­tors.

The district de­cided to set­tle and pro­vide the tax col­lec­tors with their back­pay, to­tal­ing about $83,000.

The district’s lawyer, John Fre­und, devel­oped a new pro­posal that would give the tax col­lec­tors $3 per bill, $1 per ev­ery in­stall­ment bill and 50 cents for ev­ery real es­tate bill mailed in.

In con­trast, the tax col­lec­tor’s at­tor­ney sug­gested a flat rate of $4 per bill with the sec­ond com­po­nent of the stipend for the Dublin and Sil­verdale col­lec­tors, who col­lect for fewer than 1,000 parcels.

Savona said a bi­par­ti­san com­mit­tee stud­ied how dis- tricts across the state han­dle col­lec­tion of real es­tate taxes, and it found that us­ing elected tax col­lec­tors is the cheap­est, most cost-ef­fec­tive way to col­lect real es­tate taxes. In a sur­vey of the 501 state school dis­tricts, the av­er­age price per real es­tate bill was some­where be­tween $3 and $4. The ma­jor­ity of school dis­tricts do not use elected tax col­lec­tors.

When school dis­tricts col­lect taxes them­selves, the range is be­tween $4 and $7 per bill.

Look­ing at neigh­bor­ing com­mu­ni­ties, the county pays $4.80 per bill on av­er­age. Pal­isades School District pays $5 per bill, not in­clud­ing cost re­im­burse­ments.

“Four years ago, I asked you to re­con­sider and to adopt a rea­son­able rate of com­pen­sa­tion,” Savona said. “I’m hop­ing this time you guys will lis­ten a lit­tle more closely.”

Savona also sug­gested that if the com­mit­tee would like to avoid a con­fronta­tion with the tax col­lec­tors ev­ery four years, the com­mit­tee could con­sider an au­to­matic in­crease in pay tied to an av­er­age Con­sumer Price In­dex in­crease, which would be about a 3 per­cent to 3.5 per­cent in­crease ev­ery four years. He called this au­to­matic in­crease a “no-brainer.” If the board, for some rea­son, de­cided it could not keep in­creas­ing the pay, there would be a way to get out of the au­to­matic in­crease agree­ment.

“Look at what you pay your other em­ploy­ees. I will guar­an­tee you that none of them have gone 12 years with­out a pay in­crease,” Savona said. “Why would you go 12 years with­out ac­knowl­edg­ing they’re at least as good as your other em­ploy­ees who get au­to­matic in­creases ev­ery year?”

Tax col­lec­tors lined the back of the com­mit­tee room, cu­ri­ous to see how the board mem­bers would re­act to Savona’s pro­posal that night.

Res­i­dent Scott Edgell said he did not want the district to con­sider how other school dis­tricts were han­dling the tax col­lec­tor com­pen­sa­tion is­sue be­cause those ar­eas had dif­fer­ent de­mo­graph­ics and in­come lev­els.

“I don’t care about what Cen­tral Bucks does,” Edgell said. “I care about Pen­nridge district.”

Edgell also said if the com­mit­tee agreed to au­to­matic in­creases, it would be ab­di­cat­ing its re­spon­si­bil­ity.

Board and fi­nance com­mit­tee mem­bers David Thompson, Ada Miller, Barry Casper, Frank Peif­fer and Sue Fur­long said they would like to see the tax col­lec­tors com­pen­sa­tion be set at $4 per bill.

Board Pres­i­dent Duane Dem­ing and fi­nance com­mit­tee Chair­man Bill Sar­nese said they were com­fort­able fol­low­ing what Fre­und had pro­posed — a rate of about $3.50.

Sar­nese said he was strug­gling to see the need to raise the rate to $4 per bill when other school dis­tricts in the area were still paying around the $2 per bill range.

Dem­ing said he thought $3.50 was a fair rate, and he took is­sue to the way the tax col­lec­tor’s at­tor­ney pre­sented the in­for­ma­tion.

“I do not like ei­ther an ac­tual or im­plied threat. And we got one tonight from their coun­sel who said, ‘Be very care­ful.’ I think re­spond­ing to that is wrong,” he said.

Savona did not use those ex­act words in talk­ing about the pro­posal.

Dem­ing also said that talk­ing about the past was not a big seller with him.

In other news, the fi­nance com­mit­tee re­viewed the Act 1 Res­o­lu­tion lim­it­ing the real es­tate tax in­crease to the Act 1 In­dex, which means if the school district raises real es­tate taxes, the in­crease will not ex­ceed 1.7 per­cent.

“It does not mean we are go­ing to in­crease taxes to 1.7, but it says we will not in­crease taxes above that,” Trea­surer Kathy John­son said.

Sar­nese said the board had passed this same res­o­lu­tion for the past two years.

The com­mit­tee also ap­proved sev­eral con­tracts to go to the full board, in­clud­ing a $300 au­thor visit paid through the gen­eral fund and a mo­ti­va­tional speaker event for $2,700 paid through the stu­dent ac­tiv­i­ties fund.

The board will vote on the tax col­lec­tors’ com­pen­sa­tion rate and the Act 1 Res­o­lu­tion at its board meet­ing Mon­day, Jan. 28.

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