Is law being followed on taxes?

June 29, 2013

Sometimes you have to dig a little deeper into our governing laws to see how so much is tied to taxes and why. Though I understand the value of tax dollars and what they mean in Pennsylvania, I am not sure the laws, which permit them by our taxing bodies, have been, truly, in accordance with the intent and written tax laws.

Primarily, in our state, real estate tax is the No. 1 tax and permitted to be used by the school district, city or borough, county and township. No one can argue, this is how services and needs are paid for; however, it is to be a fair tax, but has it been?

First, all real estate and land must be assessed. The law called for the assessment to be on “actual value,” for which a property would sell, but the courts, not your government, have interpreted “actual”to mean market value, the price a purchaser would be willing to pay. I don’t see anything wrong with their interpretation, but the law requires the assessments to be changed as the market values change.

Our commissioners, now and prior years since 1981, have tried to dodge this requirement of change. By review of the homes built and sold since 1981, many taxes have had to been lost for our taxing bodies, at all levels. In turn, services may have been cut or eliminated and the need to increase real estate taxes continues on old assessments. Buyers have proven they are willing to purchase the “older home,” built before 1981, at a current market value where their property assessment does not change with the purchase. Homes that once sold in 1981 for $10,000 can now be bought, today, for 10 times that amount or more, depending on location, home and yard improvements.

Then our school districts and municipalities were granted the right to tax wages and profits of their community residents, in the late 1940s. Before the ’80s, everyone seemed to be working, and the tax provided much working capital for both taxing bodies. In between those years, the occupational privilege tax, called “the right to work tax,” was adopted by the majority of school districts and municipalities, which placed an annual $10 sharing tax on every employee or self-employed person within the taxing boundaries. Today, that same tax has changed to $52 in support of the fire company and police departments that serve the employee’s area. The wage tax has remained at 1 percent on a dollar, except in certain cities, like Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and our local Washington, where they are permitted a higher percentage on those who live and work within their boundaries.

Sometime after the wage tax was introduced, the state gained approval for a state income tax and eventually adopted a sales tax. To own a car, you have a license. Buying your gas, oil and parts includes taxes. Utilities charge you a tax. Everything has a hidden tax if you look close enough, but what amazes me is the franchise fee you must pay for having cable, or the 911 phone charge, if you have a home phone. Operating a computer goes through the Internet, so you are involved in this fee, but what about those with cellphones? A family of five with such phones – versus a retired couple who rarely make a call out or receive a one-a-week call in – pays none of these fees?

No one likes to pay taxes, and it hurts worse when they become unfair. If the real estate tax rules were followed, regarding market value changes, I think we taxpayers could have a better respect for elected officials who dwell more on fairness than on personal reactions. It don’t make much sense arguing against tax rules and regulations unless you are empowered to make new changes.

Joann Diesel



Submit a letter to the editor