Posted July 21, 2015
Pennsylvania State Land Tax Fairness Coalition leaders were especially vocal this week in response to news that another 3,500 acres have been added to the state forest system, 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.
Some 430 acres have been 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.
Clinton County Commissioner Pete Smeltz, another of the coalition leaders, was frustrated. While it’s not vast acreage, he pointed out, it does reduce the tax base and eliminate any chance the land will be developed to fuel economic development.
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.
Heimel, Smeltz and Cameron County Commissioner Phil Jones said they’d be renewing their contacts with state Senate and House members, seeking support for an increase in the annual payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILT) for each acre of taxexempt, 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 the rate to $2.40/acre.
Jones said he thinks the coalition leaders’ meetings with lawmakers in Harrisburg have helped the cause.
“Most of the Senate and House members we’ve spoke with have been receptive to our plight once we explain how much acreage the state actually owns and the economic problems we face,” Jones pointed out.
More than 300,000 acres in Clinton County – over half the total real estate – are tax-exempt because they’re state owned.
Cameron County is 60- percent state-owned, while about 45 percent of Potter County consists of state forest, game and park lands.
“These latest acquisitions raise the question we have been asking all along – how much tax-exempt, stateowned 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 benefifits 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.”