Bethlehem Press

Saturday, November 18, 2017

BETHLEHEM AREA SD-Homestead Referendum a hot topic

Tuesday, October 24, 2017 by Heather Nigrone Special to the Bethlehem Press in Local News

The district finance committee had a lengthy discussion Oct. 16 to educate those in attendance about the new Homestead referendum expected on the November ballots. Board Secretary Stacy Gober brought up the topic in hopes of bringing a further understanding, and urged people in attendance to discuss the topic with the public.

The proposed ballot question will read, “Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to permit the General Assembly to enact legislation authorizing local taxing authorities to exclude from taxation up to 100 percent of the assessed value of each homestead property within a local taxing jurisdiction, rather than limit the exclusion to one-half of the median assessed value of all homestead property, which is the existing law?”

Simplified, the question is meant to measure if a majority of the people of the Commonwealth would like not to be liable for property taxes to the current extent.

Presently most homeowners are responsible for local, county and school district taxes throughout Pennsylvania, but local school taxes are reduced under the Homestead/Farmstead exemption. Rules and exclusions apply to the property; such as the home must be your primary and sole residence in order to qualify for a reduction in your property taxes.

Gober warned though, that the language of the question is misleading. While voting yes will push the issue further, it is not an immediate change in local taxing.

Voting yes will urge local politicians to continue to consider the topic, especially if an overwhelming majority of citizens vote that way. But the process is much more complex, a “Yes” vote is simply encouragement that the legislature push for a Constitutional amendment. Once an amendment gets through the lengthy process of drafting, it could be approved, and enacted. But then it would simply permit the General Assembly to enact the subsequent legislation, not mandate it. She further warned that there would be no immediate change even if that entire process happens, because the money will have to come from somewhere else. Authorities are anticipating that this would create a fourteen billion dollar deficit in funding throughout schools across the state, a figure that could deter further action.

Board President Michael Faccinetto stated his concern that this topic is merely an attempt at “political talking points only” and that the next wave of candidates will run for office playing upon the popularity of this subject, with little to no true commitment to change. Director Eugene McKeon also pointed out that the proposed legislation seems to be pitting the elderly, who are the largest voting population in the state, against the rest of the people. He further warned that reducing property taxes also means losing property tax deductions with the IRS, meaning that the decreased money to your local school district will just become an increased tax bill due to the Federal government, with no guarantee that the money will ever benefit your local community. He also warned that removing property tax will likely result in a housing bubble, as people from neighboring states like New York and New Jersey will be enticed to move to the area, putting a burden on housing, jobs, and an already booming Lehigh Valley population.