SCHOOL TAX INEQUALITY
For over 20 years, Lehigh Township residents have been paying disproportionately higher school taxes than residents of the 9 other townships in the North Pocono School District, including neighboring Clifton Township.
According to the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Article VIII, Section 1, “All taxes shall be uniform, upon the same class of subjects, within the territorial limits of the authority levying the tax, and shall be levied and collected under general laws.”
Tax Equalization is supposed to occur when municipalities in different counties lie within the same school district. This tax equalization is not happening in Lehigh Township. Lehigh Township is the only municipality in Wayne County that is part of the North Pocono School District. All other municipalities within the North Pocono School District lie within Lackawanna County.
- You could be paying anywhere from an average of $500 to $3000 more in school taxes based on the assessed value of your home compared to a similarly assessed home in Clifton Township or any of the other NPSD townships including: Thornhurst, Covington, Spring Brook, Madison, Moscow, Elmhurst, Roaring Brook and Jefferson.
- School tax amounts are based in part on the assessed value of a property. Wayne County’s most recent assessment was in 2005 vs. Lackawanna County’s most recent assessment in 1972.
- The County is responsible for performing property assessments which the tax amounts are based on. Information at this time does not anticipate a reassessment in Lackawanna County in the near future.
- The millage rates for school taxes in the NPSD are calculated on the basis of the current real estate market values in the 9 townships in Lackawanna County and in Lehigh Township in Wayne County. Since the two counties have different baseline assessments, a “Common Level Ratio” (CLR) factor from the State Tax Equalization Board (STEB) is used as an estimate to convert assessed values to current market values. If the CLR underestimates the current market values of the properties in the largest portion of the school district, inequalities in the final school taxes can result.
- This issue has occurred in other school districts throughout Pennsylvania where districts lie in more than one county such as Forest City, Hazleton and nearby Wallenpaupack. The inequalities have been resolved in those districts. To see how this works in the Wallenpaupack School District, click here.
- Tax equalization is possible with options that are offered as alternatives through the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Click here to see these options from the Public School Code of 1949.
- The State Tax Equalization Board is also responsible for tax equalization. Click here to see their website.
ACTIONS TAKEN IN LEHIGH TOWNSHIP:
April 3, 2012:
- Residents of Lehigh Township attended the monthly township meeting and asked if there is anything the township can do regarding the unfair school taxes in Lehigh Township.
- After discussion with everyone in attendance, Lehigh Township Attorney Anthony Magnotta was asked by the Board of Supervisors to look into this issue.
May 1, 2012:
- At the monthly township meeting, Attorney Magnotta stated previous action was filed against the North Pocono School District by a Tax Payers Group. Unfortunately, these efforts were unsuccessful in correcting the problem.
- It was decided a letter would be sent to the Wayne County Commissioners inviting them to a Lehigh Township meeting to discuss the school tax issue.
- Elected School Board members Angela Cobb, Diane Croom and Marjorie Haines were also invited to attend.
September 5, 2012:
- Wayne County Commissioner Wendell Kay and Wayne County Tax Assessor John Nolan attended the monthly township meeting to hear the residents’ concerns.
- School Board members Angela Cobb and Diane Croom declined to attend. Marjorie Haines was resigning from the School Board at the time of the meeting and also did not attend.
- Information was presented by Lehigh Township residents who first raised this issue.
- It was determined that the issue lies with the State Tax Equalization Board (STEB).
- Residents asked for suggestions on how to resolve this problem of unequal taxation.
- Wendell Kay stated he would contact Senator Lisa Baker’s Office for assistance.
November 30, 2012:
- Lisa Baker set up a fact finding session which was held at the District Office in Hawley.
- In attendance were: Senator Lisa Baker, Wayne County Commissioner Wendell Kay, State Tax Equalization Board Member Daniel Guydish, North Pocono School District Attorney Kimberly Kost-Scanlon, Lehigh Township Attorney Anthony Magnotta, Lehigh Township Supervisors Protus Phillips and Glen Martin and two residents of Lehigh Township who have been heavily involved in this matter, Wayne Moreau and John Eastman. Two officials from the Department of Education also joined the session via telephone.
- Information was presented and all parties, including North Pocono Attorney Kimberly Kost-Scanlon, agreed that an issue of unequal taxation does exist in Lehigh Township. This issue has occurred in several school districts in PA which lie in more than one county.
- State Tax Equalization Board Representative Daniel Guydish gave examples of other districts in Pennsylvania where this occurs.
- Senator Baker and North Pocono Attorney Kost-Scanlon will look into options to make the school taxes more equal.
December 5, 2012:
- Lehigh Township Attorney Magnotta sent a follow up letter to NPSD Attorney Kost-Scanlon. Please click here to read this letter.
January 10, 2013:
- North Pocono Attorney Kost-Scanlon responded to the letter sent by Attorney Magnotta with a letter to Lehigh Township as well as a letter to Senator Lisa Baker. Click here to see copies of these letters.
February 7, 2013:
- Attorney Magnotta followed up with Senator Baker’s office and found that the NPSD has been in touch with the PA Department of Education. Click here to see the letter from Attorney Magnotta.
March 5, 2013:
- Residents inquired if there was any progress at the monthly supervisor’s meeting.
- It was reported that we are still waiting to hear back from North Pocono School District and their discussions with the State tax Equalization Board.
- The board of supervisors directed Attorney Magnotta to follow up with a letter to Kimberly Kost Scanlon, legal counsel for NPSD, as to whether or not any progress has been made on the issue. Click here for a copy of that letter.
March 13, 2013:
- Approximately 50 Lehigh Township residents attended the North Pocono School District Board meeting with a strong showing of support from the private community of Lake View Estates.
- Resident John Eastman spoke during public participation and urged the board to act because the higher school taxes are causing financial hardships and real estate foreclosures in the community.
- Mr. Eastman asked the residents of Lehigh Township to stand during the meeting so the school board could see the faces of the people the tax equalization issue affects.
- Dennis Cawley, business manager for the school district, stated that he has forwarded information to the State Tax Equalization Board and they are hoping to hear back from them, possibly within a month, for a resolution.
April 2, 2013:
- Attorney Magnotta received an email from Attorney Scanlon stating that all information requested by the PA Department of Education has been forwarded to them and the school district is awaiting a response from the Department of Education at this time.
- The PA Department of Education will use the information provided by the school district to “try out” several different formulas for calculating taxes to determine if a viable alternative exits.
- The PA Department of Education has stated it may be some time before this issue is addressed due to budgeting issues..
- Dennis Cawley has said the school district has done some of its’ own calculations and found that the overall tax percentage in Lehigh Township has decreased from 17.8% in 2001 to 14.8% in 2012.
April 3, 2013:
- Attorney Magnotta wrote letters to both Attorney Scanlon and the PA Department of Education. See these letters here.
June 4, 2013:
- At the monthly Township meeting, the Board of Supervisors scheduled a workshop with Attorney Magnotta to discuss the progress and next steps on the school tax issue. This workshop will be held on Thursday June 13, 2013 at 6pm at the Lehigh Township Building. All Township residents are invited to attend.
June 13, 2013:
- A tax workshop was held at the Lehigh Township Municipal Building to discuss the progress of the tax issue. Resident Wayne Moreau presented a great deal of information which confirmed the presence of a tax inequality in Lehigh Township.
- Lehigh Township received correspondence from North Pocono School District stating that they are calculating taxes correctly. Please see a copy of that letter here.
June 14, 2013:
- Lehigh Township sent a letter to the North Pocono School District requesting the methods of tax calculation that were used and the contacts that were consulted on the issue. Please click here for a copy of that letter.
August 6, 2013:
- At the monthly township meeting, citizens expressed their frustration over the tax inequality. Lehigh Township has still not received a reply from NPSD regarding the request for tax calculation methods. Resident Phil Sonnet prepared a grievance form to send to NPSD regarding the current year school taxes.
- Residents are encouraged to send a grievance form to the NPSD. A copy of this grievance form can be found here.
- After much discussion at the township meeting, it was decided to request another meeting with Senator Baker and other elected officials to attempt to resolve this issue.
August 8, 2013:
- A letter was sent to Senator Baker requesting another meeting with her and the appropriate officials to resolve the tax equalization matter. Please click here to see a copy of this letter.
April 23, 2014:
- Lehigh Township Supervisors, Attorney Anthony Magnotta and residents Wayne Moreau and John Eastman met with North Pocono School Board members Angela Cobb, Diane Croom and Michael May who are the elected school board directors that represent Lehigh Township. NPSD Attorney Joseph O’Brien and Business Manager Dennis Cawley were also in attendance.
- Wayne Moreau gave a power point presentation showing the depth of the tax inequality issue.
- The Public School Code of 1949 Section 672.1 allows the school district the use of three different methods for the computation of taxes so they would be equal in Lehigh Township. Unfortunately, the three computations result in high, higher and highest taxes for Lehigh Township.
- Discussion was held between Lehigh Township Attorney Magnotta and NPSD Attorney O’Brien as to whether or not the NPSD could adjust the millage for Lehigh Township to equalize taxes under Section 672.1. Business Manager Cawley felt this is not an option. Attorney O’Brien stated he will research the idea further.
May 15, 2014:
- Senator Lisa Baker organized a meeting at her office in Hawley. Among those attending were Lehigh Township Supervisors Glen Martin and Protus Phillips, Lehigh Township Attorney Anthony Magnotta, two residents from Lehigh Township who have been involved Dr. Wayne Moreau and John Eastman, Wayne County Commissioner Wendell Kay, Wayne County Chief Assessor John Nolan, , NPSD Attorney Joseph O’Brien, other school district representatives, Lackawanna County Deputy Assessor, State Representative Mike Peifer, Senator Baker’s Field Representative for Wayne and Pike Counties Andrew Seder, and representatives from the Department of Education, Department of Community and Economic Development and the State Tax Equalization Board.
- Wayne Moreau gave a power point presentation which clearly spells out the situation. Click here to see this presentation. All parties agreed that there are inconsistencies with the final numbers and that the goal is to find the root of the tax inequality and then find a solution.
- Representative Mike Peifer suggested the idea of a legislative fix but stated this should not be the first option towards fixing the problem.
- After more than 90 minutes, the meeting ended with the State Tax Equalization Board being tasked with investigating Lackawanna County to find out why the disparity is so great and what can be done to correct it.
- Attorney Magnotta will follow up with Mr. Seder regarding the legislative proposal of a fourth option under Section 672.1 of the Public School Code of 1949. This would give the school district an option that is more reasonable and fair to all taxpayers.
May 16, 2014:
- Senator Baker sent a letter to All parties involved in the May 15, 2014 meeting urging STEB to report back no later than September with a corrective action. Click here to see a copy of this letter.
The Lehigh Township Board of Supervisors is continually monitoring this issue in order to bring tax equalization to Lehigh Township. They would like to thank all representatives who are attempting to resolve this matter for their cooperation and work, including Senator Baker, those individuals from the State Tax Equalization Board, PA Department of Education, Wayne County Commissioners, North Pocono School District members and Lehigh Township residents. Check back for updates on the progress of this issue.