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Pennsylvania Property Rights Association

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School Safety Using a Proven Unfair System of Taxation!

Posted by Jim Rodkey on August 31, 2018 at 1:25 AM

Recent school shooting have culminated into discussions about the need for improving school safety. A task force was formed from the 4,500 school board directors in Pennsylvania led by Nathan Mains.(https://www.pennlive.com/politics/index.ssf/2018/08/school_safety_task_force_repor.html)

I am troubled because the organization under the leadership of Nathan Mains wants to see the ability to fund school safety by removing the cap limit and raising property taxes to pay for it.

The article in Pennlive put it like this:

Mains is calling on them to include school safety as a component of state reimbursement for school construction projects and to allow school districts to increase property taxes above their state-set cap without going to voters for approval to pay for school safety improvements.

The cap limits were originally set in place and included so many exceptions that schools could easily just ignore the cap limits to raise property taxes above the set limit. The Department of Education would basically just rubber stamp these requests to exceed the limits set by the Department of Education and the Department would agree. The exemptions that allowed schools to exceed the cap limits was lowered to three areas but we still see more than a third of our school districts applying for and having granted the ability to exceed the cap limit.

Now the school districts want to use the issue of school safety to expand their ability to raise property taxes above the prescribed limits that are, in part, based on economic factors within the school district.

As I’ve always said, school funding is important, but the school property tax is an unfair system that is not based on ability to pay resulting in at least 10,000 people losing their homes each year to the school property tax. That number does not include the many who are forced into bankruptcy and foreclosure. It just the number of people who lose their homes because of taxes.

Their home will then be sold on an auction block where the only real concern is making sure the tax obligation is met so homes are sold for pennies on the dollar at auction without any consideration of just compensation to the owner.

The distrust of the people by the school districts is something that really concerns me. The continual refusal to allow the people living in the school districts to be part of the decision making process through voter referendum in tax increases is simply incredible to me.

At the same time, any attempts to put an end to the property tax is met with absolute resistance by the school districts. Two recent articles out of Philadelphia demonstrate that about 30 to 35% of homes in Philadelphia and the four neighboring counties are overassessed. The article on Philadelphia alone states that more that 160,000 properties are overassessed. The combined overassessement in Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery Counties is over 200,000 properties.

(Article sources: http://www2.philly.com/philly/news/philadelphia-property-assessments-appeal-tax-market-value-20180810.html; http://www.philly.com/philly/news/pennsylvania/pennsylvania-property-taxes-assessment-20171214.html?arc404=true)

The article on Philadelphia states that the majority of the over-assessed homes are lower-priced homes which would mean that lower-income families are being hit the hardest in these assessments. The article goes on to state that that some of the lower-priced properties are overassessed by as much as 70%.

Let that sink in. The assessment system is supposed to make property taxation more fair but that’s not really what the statistics prove in spite of all the assessment advocates out there trying to justify this system of taxation. We already know that lower-income families are paying a higher percentage of their income towards the property tax but to then see statistical proof that lower-income families are also the victims of over-assessments only makes this problem worse.

In an almost dismissive tone the article state that 1/3 of the properties are within a 10% range of accuracy as though that should be okay. It’s not because a home assessed at $100,000 that is only overassessed by 1% is paying property taxes on $1,000 of property they don’t actually own. That remains the fatal flaw of property taxation, it is an arbitrary value attached on an item for the purposes of taxation that rarely ever actually matches the actual worth of the thing being taxed. The overwhelming majority of the assessed values on property does not actually represent the real worth of that property.

If we assume that more than a third of the properties are over-assessed and another 30% are only slightly overassessed while the remaining properties, the higher-priced homes, are under-assessed, then there is absolutely nothing fair about assessments to determine property taxation.

To then find school districts wishing to have one more reason to raise property taxes above the capped inflationary limits knowing that the increased tax will be a millage rate determined by a assessment on a property that hardly ever reflects actual value of the property should be egregious to all of us.

Yes, we want to see safe schools. Let’s just find a way to pay for this that isn’t based on an antiquated and seriously flawed system of taxation. Certainly not one that, time and time again, is proven to be putting a higher burden on lower-income families.

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