Tax collectors sue district
The elected tax collectors from West Norriton and East Norriton have sued the Norristown Area School District, alleging that the compensation for collecting school taxes is insufficient and violates the state regulations governing compensation and related expenses.
West Norriton Tax Collector Michael Murray and East Norriton Tax Collector Kenneth Lahner sued the NASD in mid- September, alleging a Feb. 11 resolution adopted by the Norristown Area School Board set the compensation at $ 2.50 per tax bill. The resolution stated the $ 2.50 “compensation includes reimbursement for expenses such as printing, postage, books, blanks and forms.”
The resolution purports to “place the cost of printing, postage, books, blanks and forms on elected officials collecting district taxes by bootstrapping ‘ reimbursement’ for those expenses into the proposed compensation scheme,” the lawsuit said. “By including reimbursement for statutorily required district expenses within the proposed compensation per bill, the district has proposed an actual compensation to plaintiffs for collecting district taxes at a net amount of approximately $ 1.50 per bill.
Attorney Michael Savona, representing the two tax collectors, said the NASD had been collecting the school tax itself for many years rather than allowing the elected tax collectors in the two townships to do the work. Under state regulations, the entity that receives the collected taxes has the obligation to set the compensation rate for collections “on or before Feb. 15 of the year a municipal election” is held to elect township tax collectors. The reason for the deadline is that any candidate for tax collector needs to know in advance what the compensation for the job will be.
Most tax collectors receive collection payments from several different entities, such as the township and Montgomery County, for tax collection work.
“The problem is that in that $ 2.50 they are lumping in expenses associated with mailing out the tax bills. The clients [ Murray and Lahner] estimate it costs $ 1 per parcel. Their real compensation is $ 1.50 per bill.”
The school district cannot charge for the expenses, according to Savona.
“The law says the school district has to pay those expenses,” he said.
The Doylestown attorney said several elected Pennsylvania tax collectors won an August 2012 case and the state Supreme Court ruled the government entities must pay a reasonable rate for the collection work elected tax collectors have to be used to do the work.
The lawsuit, filed Sept. 20 in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court, seeks a declaratory judgement overturning the resolution or a permanent injunction directing the school district to separately pay the expenses of the school tax collections.
In a 47- page legal brief from the school district answering the tax collectors’ lawsuit, attorney Peter Amuso argued the lawsuit had “insufficient specificity” and Lahner did not have “standing” to bring the lawsuit because he was not listed as a “qualified tax collector” by the state.
“The plaintiffs have made it clear to the district that Lahner does not intend to collect district taxes, but rather intends to have Murray do it,” the legal brief said. “Pennsylvania courts have ruled that candidates for tax collector have standing to sue taxing authorities over compensation structures during the year of their election. But here Lahner’s decision not to collect district taxes next year means that he has no direct and substantial interest to protect in this matter.”
The proposed change to having the two tax collectors take over would begin in January 2014 with the first school tax bills mailed out in July 2014.
There are about 6,300 school tax bills in West Norriton and about 6,000 tax bills in East Norriton that would be affected by the lawsuit. Norristown, which is also part of the school district, has Berkheimer Associates collect the school taxes. Richard Zawisza, the Norristown director of finance, collects municipal and county taxes.
“When I became the tax collector I read the law. The tax collector is the only one who has the authority to collect school taxes,” Murray said. “It also says a tax collector can deputize another entity like the school district, but that was never done. I am looking to receive proper compensation.”
Murray was elected to his first four- year term four years ago.
“I was retired from PECO, and I had 32 years of experience as a corporate tax accountant and financial analyst,” Murray said. “I have a state certification as a certified tax collector.”
Murray ran for reelection on the Republican ticket in Tuesday’s election, facing Democratic challenger Tauri Ashtann Douglas. Meanwhile, Lahner did not seek re- election.