'Pa.'s Playground?'

MAY 18, 2016 A widely circulated northcentral Pennsylvania newspaper recently spotlighted our coalition's campaign. Here's the article appearing in the May 14 edition of Endeavor News:

Cameron County is a poster child for the economic consequences of being part of "Pennsylvania's playground." Commissioner Phil Jones (left) laid out the issues last week in discussing the most recent meeting of the Pennsylvania State Land Tax Fairness Coalition. Its mission is to push for higher payments in-lieu of taxes (PILT) for tax-exempt state forest, park and game lands. No county is more penalized than Cameron. Some 158,000 of county’s total 255,709 acres – roughly 60 percent – are exempt from taxes because they’re state forest, game or park land. Another 69,000 acres are taxed at a fraction of their value under Pa. Act 319 (Clean and Green), a law that gives a break to private forest, farm and pasture land owners. That leaves the owners of a mere 33,077 acres – or 14 percent of Cameron County’s total property – carrying a disproportional tax load for the school district, county, boroughs and townships.

“We’re basically Pennsylvania’s playground,” said Clinton County Commissioner Pete Smeltz. “People come from all around the state to enjoy our forest, game and park lands in the northern counties, but it’s the local taxpayers who have to subsidize their playing, because all of that land is exempt from taxes.”

Commissioners Jones and Smeltz are joined by two other commissioners, Paul Heimel of Potter County and Tony Mussare of Lycoming County, on the coalition’s leadership team. Other members are Austin Area School Superintendent Jerry Sasala and Potter County GIS Director Will Hunt. They’ll be meeting at Lock Haven in the coming weeks to plot their strategies. Leaders have met with upwards of 60 Senate and House members to discuss the inequities and request a higher PILT, which would require legislative action.

“We’re looking at putting together a new strategy to make our case and get more people on board,” Jones said. “We’re meeting resistance from some of the southern counties. They don’t have nearly as much state land and don’t really understand our plight.” House Bill 344 would increase the annual PILT on state-owned forest and game lands from $3.60 per acre to $5.40 per acre. The PILT is divided equally at $1.20 each to the municipalities, school districts and counties in which the land is located. House Bill 1221 increases the PILT to $7.20 per acre.

Both of the measures are scuttled with a House committee and there is no sign of any imminent movement.