Our Opinion: With the district facing a $4.85 million budget shortfall, it needs every dollar it can get.
Without question, the Daniel Boone School Board did the right thing last week when it unanimously rejected a request from Armorcast LP for a break on $86,000 in unpaid real estate taxes.
With the school district facing a $4.85 million shortfall in the 2013-14 budget and residents across the commonwealth struggling to pay property taxes used to finance public schools, the Boone board was in no position to waive a tax obligation in the hope that someday the property might be redeveloped.
"I just feel as though they are doing nothing to really develop this property, especially for this long," board member Scott L. Potts said, referring to Armorcast LP, owner Gregory Flynn, and Meco Demolition Inc., which Flynn hired last year to raze the former World War II tank factory in Birdsboro and Union Township.
Even if Flynn and Meco are successful in developing the 91-acre tract, there is little incentive for the school district to exonerate the debt that Armorcast already owes. Armorcast recently had its Keystone Opportunity Zone status renewed, which means it could be exempt from taxes if the property is redeveloped.
This entire incident drives home the need for the Legislature to find some means other than the property tax to finance public school districts in the commonwealth. Several proposals have been introduced over the last few decades, but most of them have relied too heavily on the sales tax, which raised questions as to whether they would be able to bring in the amount of money needed to fund the 500 districts in the state.
There is another effort under way this year, which also would increase the sales tax, but it would rely more heavily on the income tax, something we have advocated for many years. With an income tax, those who make the most money pay the most to fund the schools.
The biggest problem with the latest proposal, which has been backed by a bipartisan group of senators and representatives representing Berks County, is on the distribution end. At least to start, each school district would be given the same amount of money it would have received through the property tax rather than establishing a per-student rate that would apply to every district across Pennsylvania.
Backers of the tax shift have said they first have to change the way the money to fund the districts is collected. Once that's done, they can tackle the distribution issues.
Whether that will be enough to get the legislation through both the House and the Senate and onto the governor's desk for his signature is anybody's guess at this point. In the meantime, the districts must operate under the property-tax system. And as far as Boone is concerned, as well as any other district in Berks, for that matter, that means taking a hard line on any quest for exoneration.
Resident Justin Crosby got it right when he said of Armorcast, "Allowing them to get a reduction or exoneration would just be a slap in the face to the rest of the taxpaying citizens."
That simply was reinforced by the fact that district residents who were unable to make their tax payments by the Oct. 31 deadline because of Hurricane Sandy were not granted any relief.
Armorcast must meet its obligation, just as every other taxpayer has to do.