On the House: Property taxes and education

Posted: October 28, 2012

A couple of weeks back, I was in that zone of geographic uncertainty we in New Jersey call northern Burlington County, at the home of a retired Air Force master sergeant whom I was interviewing about home automation.

For the record, I asked whether I was in Mount Holly. "Burlington Township," he replied, adding that he knew it because "of the high taxes."

Although his children have finished school, he continues to live there and pay those high taxes because, paraphrasing now, if you give children the best education money can buy, it will reduce the amount you spend on crime.

Recently, I wrote about a legislative proposal in Pennsylvania, Bill 1776, that would change the way education is funded.

I emphasized that I had no opinion, and was, as usual, sharing the thoughts of others.

Of course, e-mail - I'll share some of it - followed.

Emily Smith - whose e-mail said she was certain that I would not respond to her - has lived in Upper Darby Township for more than 29 years, and neither has nor has ever had children.

"I have paid upwards of $86,420 in school taxes for which I have received zero benefit, except for very rude and disrespectful kids not even from our community," Smith said.

"There are so many people moving out of Upper Darby due to the annual increasing of taxes, the largest of which is school tax. I recommended to the school board that they have the common sense to 'grandfather' the rate charged to seniors when they turn 65."

Freezing property-tax rates for those 65 and older is common among towns in Connecticut, and, from what my kinfolk say, it appears to have no effect on quality of services.

I suppose it might if 90 percent of the population were 65 or older, but you wouldn't have a lot of schoolchildren then, either.

When Sally Moak of West Chester first read about the bill, she e-mailed the legislators mentioned in the articles for more information.

"As a renter, I wanted to know how this bill would impact me," she said. "It looks like I would be paying higher income and sales taxes without any rent redress."

From the replies to her queries, it appears she was right.

"There is no provision in the bill requiring landlords to lower current rental rates in proportion to whatever property-tax relief they may receive," Moak said. "The bill also doesn't require landlords to lower rents for new leases. I consider this a major deficiency in this bill."

Considering that "20 percent of Pennsylvania residents rent rather than own, this inequity in the bill needs to be addressed," she said.

John Pauley of Wayne is a former teacher who expressed concern for homeowners who are facing foreclosure and those who are retired and on fixed incomes.

Still, he said, "a reason why values of homes are higher in one community rather than another is the quality of the school system."

"People often select communities by the excellence that their school system has achieved," he said, adding that "properties draw larger bids due to the educational value of the schools."

Pauley said that school excellence equals higher property values, and that "the property taxes reflect the cost/expense of valued schools."

What he said next echoed what the retired Air Force master sergeant in Burlington Township observed:

"Whether a property owner has a student attending the neighborhood or public school or a private school, the property owner accrues benefits from a well-educated citizenry."

"As the school systems and communities are structured in Pennsylvania and New Jersey today," Pauley said, "a sizable component of the school budget should logically come from real estate levies."

"On the House" appears Sundays. Contact Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472 or aheavens@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @alheavens.

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