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Exemption deadline nears for Franklin County property owners

February 16, 2008|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- The deadline for property owners in Franklin County to apply for Act 1 homestead and farmstead exemptions is about two weeks away, but thousands of those who are eligible have yet to send theirs in, said Gary Martin, the county's chief assessor.

During a workshop meeting Tuesday with the Board of County Commissioners, Martin said about 15,000 applications were mailed out in late

December, but only about one-third of them have been returned to the Tax Assessment Office. The deadline to apply for an exemption is March 1, he said.

Some 32,000 of the exemptions were approved for qualified home and farm owners since the passage of Act 72 of 2004, a property tax reform law that few school districts passed and which was superseded by Act 1 in 2006.

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Act 1 required state school districts to have a referendum on the May 2007 primary ballot giving voters the opportunity to shift some of the tax burden for schools from property taxes to earned income or personal income taxes. In Franklin County, only one of six school districts -- Chambersburg -- approved the referendum, which resulted in property taxes being lowered by about $400, while the earned income tax rate was increased to 1.2 percent from 0.5 percent.

While the other five districts did not approve their referendums, they can share in property tax relief with a share of slot machine revenue dedicated to that purpose.

Rick Vensel, business manager for the Chambersburg Area School District, said in December that the amount of slots revenue available for tax relief in each district will not be announced by the state until April. At that time, the amount collected for tax relief was more than $530 million, according to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.

The tax relief from slot machine revenue for Chambersburg was estimated at $50 to $150 for each homestead and farmstead exemption, a gaming board official said in December.

How the money will be distributed is based on a formula that takes into account income, tax rates, expenditures and aid to school districts. By that formula, Chambersburg likely would receive less than the majority of the state's 501 districts because of its relatively high income and low taxes, Vensel said in December.

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