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New look, no relief for school tax bills in Franklin Co.

July 03, 2007|By JENNIFER FITCH

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - School tax bills being mailed in Pennsylvania now allow some recipients to pay in three installments, courtesy of a state law that failed to produce the property tax cuts it promised.

Those eligible for the installment plan are property owners who have an approved homestead/farmstead exclusion on file in their county assessor's office.

But bills mailed in the Waynesboro Area School District show the installment plan as an option for every property owner, not just the ones who completed exclusion forms, returned them to the assessor's office and were approved.

"If someone wants to pay their taxes in installments, we have to check the list," said Donald L. Ambrose, tax collector in Washington Township.

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Thirty-two thousand exclusion applications were approved in the 2004-05 mailing and remain active for three years, Franklin County Tax Assessor Gary Martin said in April. Nearly 18,000 applications were distributed in the county early this year, he said.

Act 1 of 2006 was supposed to provide property tax relief in exchange for gambling revenue.

"There wasn't any money available for anybody from slots operations," said Dennis O'Toole, Franklin County's director of tax services.

As a result, tax bills don't reflect the way an exclusion would affect the assessment calculations, O'Toole said. The only change is the installment option, he said.

If a property owner in the Waynesboro Area School District owes $900 by Oct. 31, he can pay $300 by Aug. 31, $300 by Sept. 30 and $300 by Oct. 31. He also could choose to simply pay the lump sum of $900 by Oct. 31.

"I anticipate there will be a lot of calls on this," Ambrose said.

That taxpayer also has the traditional option of paying his taxes by Aug. 31 and saving 2 percent, lowering his payment to $882. A 10 percent penalty would apply if the property owner paid his taxes after Oct. 31 but before Dec. 31.

If a property owner chooses to use the installment plan, he could also face penalties for missing those payment dates.

"If they are late in making the payment, there's a 10 percent penalty (each time)," said Delmos Oldham, tax collector for the Borough of Waynesboro.

Ambrose said he has been told that bills are basically the same in all area school districts, with the exception being Chambersburg Area School District.

There, voters in May agreed to raise their earned income tax by seven-tenths of a percent in exchange for a $367 reduction on their property tax bills. Methods of tax collection will make the reduction less than $367 for 2007-08, district officials said previously.

Chambersburg was one of eight school districts across Pennsylvania to agree to such a shift.

A representative of another that did, Reading School District, called Chambersburg's comptroller, Marvin Rife, on Monday and asked if Franklin County's largest school district has distributed its tax bills yet.

It hasn't.

"It's been a struggle," Rife said.

The bills are with other school districts' at a printer in Valley Forge, Pa., but the districts with the voter-approved shift have been made a lower priority, Rife said.

"They're having major problems," he said. "We usually try to have them out the first or second of July."

Rife said that Chambersburg hopes to distribute its bills this week.

In the past, if bills were distributed late, the district extended the deadline for the early-payment discount, he said.

The bills being mailed now only cover the school district's taxes, Oldham said. The ones for the municipality and county are distributed in March, he said.

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