TASD schedules public information session on property tax reduction law

Residents of The Tyrone Area School District are being given another opportunity to hear about details of Act 72, the state’s property tax reduction law, ask questions, express concerns and offer input at a public information session scheduled for early May.
On Tuesday night, school board members discussed the issue of scheduling the meeting and eventually decided to hold it on May 2. The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. and is expected to take place in the L.G.I. in the Elementary building. Members said the May 2 date would help them gather more information and hear from the public prior to a scheduled work session on May 3. The board also has a regular meeting scheduled for May 10.
Tyrone Area and school districts throughout the state face a May 30 deadline for “opting in” or “out” of the property tax reduction program. The board also discussed holding a special meeting later in May regarding the tax reduction issue, but made no decision on that idea. The thought was to allow board members the maximum amount of time to gather information prior to having to make a decision ahead of the May 30 deadline. Instead, officials indicated they could schedule the special meeting if needed during the board’s regular May meeting.
Previously, the district, along with several others including Bellwood-Antis, had participated in a closed session where information was offered by Penn State Professor William Hartman, a school finance expert. Several area school districts, including Tyrone and Bellwood-Antis, also organized and hosted an informational meeting held last week in Altoona for the general public.
About 60 people attended the session and observers indicated the vast majority of those people were school board members or officials. It was estimated about 15 people from the general public were at the April 7 meeting.
Tyrone Area officials said other districts had offered separate informational sessions for their residents. School board members and administrators said they would show part of Dr. Hartman’s presentation and then allow attendees to ask questions and express concerns.
In addition to last week’s session and the scheduled May meeting, the district offered information about Act 72 in the most recent edition of its Ty Notes newsletter.
Act 72 calls for a property tax reduction in return for an increase in the earned income tax. The legislation also allows for a back-end referendum which will allow voters to decide about certain tax increases.
Districts which “opt in” will have to have a referendum in November of this year, but will still be allowed to raise the earned income tax by an estimated 0.10 percent even if voters turn down the increase. Districts which “opt out” would never be allowed to participate in the property tax reduction.
The program is being funded by expected revenues to be generated by profits from slots machines which were authorized by the legislature and signed into law last year by Governor Ed Rendell.
The earned income tax increase wouldn’t take effect until the property tax reduction is realized; something which is not expected to happen until gambling revenues reach certain levels. Most experts have said the first slots won’t spin until sometime in 2006 with the reduction not coming until 2007 or 2008.
Homeowners and farmers were asked to declare whether or not they wanted to participate in the program last year and had until March 1 to return a form indicated they wanted to take advantage of the reduction. Property owners which did not declare are expected to have another opportunity to do so since the reduction hasn’t actually gone into effect. Once it does, it is supposed to be a yearly reduction which will be reflected, not as a rebate, but as a credit towards the value of the property subject to taxes. Once the credit is applied, property owners would then realize a reduction in the amount of taxes owed.
School districts from around the state have called for legislative and court action seeking a delay of the May 30 deadline for making a decision on whether or not a district wants to participate in the program.
There has also been legal action questioning the legitimacy of the legislation which created the tax reduction funding source, Act 71, which authorized slots in Pennsylvania.
On Tuesday, The Associated Press reported the Pennsylvania School Boards Association filed a lawsuit that same day asking a state court to give boards the extra year to decide whether to participate in the state’s property-tax relief program. (See separate story on page 2.)