FSA Attorneys Headed to the PA Supreme Court on Behalf of Pennridge and Central Bucks Tax Collectors

In 2009, Pennridge and Central Bucks school districts in Bucks County decided to cut elected tax collectors' pay by 69 percent in Pennridge and 80 percent in Central Bucks.The tax collectors maintained the low pay was a way to motivate them out of office to make way for a lockbox system, where banks collect taxes and the school provides customer service. The school districts maintained that the decision was purely financial. In October 2009, a Bucks County judge ruled in favor of the tax collectors, saying that the proposed pay rate was unreasonable and that changes to the tax collection system must come from the state Legislature, not the school districts. In May 2010, Commonwealth Court reversed the decision, finding that the tax collectors failed to prove that the districts had been "arbitrary and capricious" or had acted in bad faith when setting the compensation plan. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has agreed to consider whether the Commonwealth Court was wrong to grant the school districts' appeal. Among the issues they will consider is whether school districts are permitted to "accomplish a wholesale change in the system of real estate tax collection, using their discretion to fix compensation for tax collectors, which has not been sanctioned by the General Assembly." This case marks the first time that the high court has ever addressed the compensation of elected tax collectors and the authority of school districts in the Commonwealth to control tax collector pay as a means to modify the tax collection system. A team of FSA attorneys, including Shareholder Mike Savona and Barbara Merlie, have championed the tax collectors' cause throughout the trial and appeals process. Savona said that the Commonwealth Court decision was flawed because it ignored the role of the elected tax collector. If you remove the tax collector from the process, and ignore the vital role they play, you lose elected officials who care about their constituents and offer the tax collection system some checks and balances. He said the argument that school districts could save money because tax collectors don't have up-to-date technology is flawed, and that a recent Pennsylvania Joint House and Senate Committee on Finance & Budget study found that school districts can spend twice as much to collect taxes without tax collectors as they spend to pay the elected collectors. "The Legislature has looked into property tax collection, and they've reached a conclusion that there's no need to make any wholesale changes," Savona said. "This is the Supreme Court's opportunity to clean up the system. Now we have to address these loopholes." In the meantime, Savona added, the tax collectors continue to work for drastically reduced pay. "These men and women who are collecting these taxes at lower pay scales are doing a true public service," Savona said. "Most of them are actually losing money by collecting school taxes. They're doing everything they can to hang in there because they recognize that this fight is important not just to them, but also to the 2,500 plus elected tax collectors throughout the Commonwealth." An argument before the Supreme Court is expected by Spring 2012.