LIMERICK — Spring-Ford Area School Board discussed the per capita tax at a workshop meeting Monday night before a surprise motion to eliminate it was voted down.
Board Vice President Tom DiBello made the motion to eliminate the tax on the argument that it uses too much of the district staff’s time to collect and process.
“It is my recommendation to this board after sitting and listening to what (has been) a complete fiasco for the last several years in relation to the per capita, I make a motion that we move forward with eliminating or removing the per capita tax,” DiBello said.
The four municipal tax collectors who serve in the school district attended a finance committee meeting last week and discussed the per capita tax.
DiBello said it came up that two years ago, a merging of the district’s human resources and finance databases created problems with the per capita file which have continued to the present. Additionally, the time district administration and the tax collectors use in relation to the per capita task is “not factored,” time which “could be spent for other priorities,” DiBello said.
On the con side was a loss of $250,000 in revenue, though DiBello argued that the number might be lower due to the costs spent in co-working on it.
DiBello said Limerick tax collector Ryan Wall said the district spends $37,000 to collect $250,000 worth of per capita taxes. By comparison, Wall told DiBello that the district spends between $68,000 and $70,000 collecting $89 million worth of real estate taxes.
The per capita tax collects $10 per year from each of the four municipalities in the Spring-Ford Area School District: Limerick, Royersford, Spring City and Upper Providence.
Residents in Royersford, Spring City and Upper Providence pay $15 due to $5 levies from the municipal government (though Spring City sends out their own bills), according to numbers provided by Anspach.
Issues with the tax come from the merger of the list and the difficulty of updating the list due to current municipal laws.
“I can tell you that this tax is the definition of a nuisance tax,” said Julie Mullin, a former Spring-Ford Area School Board member now serving as Upper Providence’s tax collector.
She said she has the largest municipality to collect from and runs into the problem of the tax rolls being outdated, with many of those receiving tax bills either having moved, died, or being too young.
“Each time one of those comes in, I have to send an exoneration bill,” Mullin said, saying the school district reimburses her for the costs of sending the notices out. “You pay me to send them out. And now you pay me to clean up the mistakes that are happening over and over and over again.”
“The taxpayers have gone through a lot of turmoil because of the problems caused,” said board member Mark Dehnert. “It’s generated a lot of anxiety in the community.”
Since the tax would be eliminated but the same number of staff would be retained, there would be no real savings, said Spring-Ford Business Manager Timothy Anspach.
“In essence, you’re shifting them from spending more time on per capita to other work,” Anspach said. “But you’re not really saving the dollars to go with it. You’re re-allocating time.”
“There’s a cost for doing business,” DiBello argued, saying some with hourly rates wouldn’t have to work on the per capita tax.
“The cost of collecting (the per capita tax) keeps going up,” said Dehnert. “It’s becoming more of a nuisance than a benefit to have that tax.”
Michael Spletzer, husband of board member Kelly Spletzer, got up in a public comment section before the vote to speak and said the elimination of the tax would “destroy” a revenue stream.
“Just because somebody screws something up and it’s a lot of work doesn’t mean it’s something that should be gotten rid of,” he said. “Second thing: to spend $38,000 or $40,000 to bring in $200,000, no matter what all the other revenue streams are, in any business, that’s a good return on investment ... I would say that’s a reason to not do away with it.”
If the tax were eliminated by the board, it would take a public referendum to bring it back.
“What scares me about this is our limitations for bringing in revenue,” Anspach said. “Our hands are tied around our back. There are very (few) options for us to bring in funds.”
“I think that this is as draconian as the solicitor indicates, that this is done, that’s it ... I think this should be pushed back a week,” said board member Bernard Pettit. “I think it should be discussed more thoroughly.”
Pettit said he wasn’t necessarily against removing the tax, but he felt the motion for the removal was “sprung upon” the board and needed further analysis.
As such, when the motion was voted upon, only DiBello and Dehnert voted in favor of it. It failed 7-2.
A study into the costs of the per capita tax was requested by the board after the vote.
Anspach asked that the board decide one way or another on the tax before November, out of courtesy to the district’s municipal governments putting together their budgets at that time.