Here we go again

JUNE 20, 2015 -- Pennsylvania State Land Tax Fairness Coalition leaders sprung into action this week in response to news that another 20,800 acres have been added to the state’s holdings, stripping it from the tax base of the affected school districts, counties and municipalities.

“For as much work as we have put into our mission, it appears that the state itself is making the case for us,” said Potter County Commissioner Paul Heimel, one of the coalition leaders.

On Tuesday, June 30, the Pennsylvania Game Commission removed nearly 300 acres from local tax bases by purchasing it for the State Game Lands system. PGC bought 231 acres in Howard Township, Centre County, from a private owner for $325,000. Also, the agency purchased 63.5 from a private estate in Saville Township, Perry County, for $150,000.

Earlier in the month, some 430 acres were acquired by the Pa. Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) in Clinton County, at a cost of $776,000. The property will now come off the tax rolls of Keystone Central School District, Clinton County and Noyes Township.

Additionally, DCNR has acquired the 3,053 acres near Mocanaqua in Luzerne County and added it to the Lackawanna State Forest.

Earlier this year, DCNR announced that it had purchased 17,000 acres in McKean County’s Norwich and Sergeant townships.

Coalition leaders responded to the four separate acquisitions by immediately renewing their contacts with state Senate and House members. They’re making sure lawmakers are aware of the latest acquisitions, as they seek support for an increase in the annual payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILT) for each acre of tax-exempt, state-owned land.

The rate stands at $1.20/acre for each of the three taxing bodies. One bill (HB 344) would boost it to $1.80. Another measure (HB 1224) would double to rate to $2.40/acre.

“These latest acquisitions raise the question we have been asking all along – how much tax-exempt, state-owned land is enough?” Heimel said. “Whenever acreage comes under state ownership, all other property owners are forced to pay more and that land is locked up in its current use. There are some benefits to that, for sure. But we as a populace need to decide when we have reached the point where the state owns enough land. The total always goes up, but never down.”