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Slots could save Pa. taxpayers money

November 30, 1999|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA.

Homeowners in the Chambersburg Area School District might pay less in real estate taxes in 2008-09 as Pennsylvania's slot machine casinos are expected to bring in sufficient revenue that funds can be distributed to school districts for property tax relief.

The exact amount will not be known until spring, said Business Manager Rick Vensel. Based on the allocation formula, which takes into account different components of income, tax rates, expenditures and aid for each district, Chambersburg will receive less than most of the 501 school districts in the state, he said.

Based on the state Department of Education formula, Chambersburg ranks 38th out of 501, so its share will be less than districts that are less well off, he said.

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"The Budget Secretary, by law, must certify by April 15 of every year the amount of funds available for property tax relief," according to an e-mail from Doug Harbach, the director of communications for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. As of Nov. 26, "the amount available to be transferred for property tax relief had reached $532,400,000," he wrote.

Harbach estimated the tax relief from slots revenues for Chambersburg at $54 to $136 "as the amount of money generated by taxes grows from $400 million to $1 billion annually."

Gov. Ed Rendell projected annual revenues for tax relief would hit $1 billion when all 14 gaming sites are licensed and operating. Six are now in operation and five have licenses, Harbach said.

Chambersburg district residents who have qualified for the homestead and farmstead exemptions received an exemption of $399 this year, a tradeoff for district voters approving an increase of 0.7 percent in the earned income tax to 1.2 percent. That figure is separate from whatever extra relief comes in the form of slot machine money, he said.

After voters approved a tax shifting referendum in the May 15 primary, the $5.8 million the district anticipated in increased earned income tax collections was divided by about 15,000 homestead and farmstead exemptions to come up with the $399 reduction in taxes for qualified property owners, Vensel said. Those 15,000 exemptions are about 70 percent of the properties in the district that could qualify, he said.

Earned income tax collections lag behind property tax collections, so Vensel said the $5.8 million is about 70 percent of what the district expects to collect in the upcoming school year.

In 2008-09, the first year of full collections on the earned income tax, the district could collect $8.5 million, but Vensel said more residents likely would apply for the homestead and farmstead exemptions. That would mean the money available for tax relief would be spread among a larger pot of homeowners.

"That's one of the Act 1 mysteries we're all living through," Vensel said.

The next mailing of applications to Franklin County property owners will be made after Christmas, with the applications due back by March 1, County Appraiser Gary Martin said. More than 32,000 homes and farms countywide have been approved for exemptions in previous years, he said.

The size of this year's mailing has not been determined, but Martin said it will be approximately 15,000.

Almost all of the districts in the state, including the five other school districts in Franklin County, rejected the shift from property taxes to earned income taxes in the May primary referendum. Those districts will be eligible for slots revenue to reduce property taxes.

"The whole homestead process is going to have to be learned by the other 493 districts," Vensel said.

The tax relief does not end there. Senior citizens, widows and widowers between the ages of 50 and 64 and disabled people might also qualify for property tax rebates of up to $650 based on income in addition to their homestead exemption and slots revenue disbursement, based on income. Seniors further benefit from not having to pay the earned income tax on their pensions and Social Security.

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