Manheim Township High School file

Students walk into the front entrance of Manheim Township High School in this file photo.

A judge has sided with Manheim Township’s embattled tax collector in an unusual, long-running and costly legal battle with the school district.

And he’s ordered the district to give her a raise, to boot.

Lancaster County Common Pleas Judge David Ashworth’s ruling dealt a blow to the district’s attempt to limit some of the duties to be performed by Patricia Kabel, who was elected by voters to collect local taxes, including the school real estate tax. The district now performs that task.

Ashworth ruled that the state’s Local Tax Collection Law establishes the right of elected tax collectors to perform that duty for school districts, and that Kabel should be paid more than 15 cents per bill collected, a rate set by the school board in 1997.

The district said it would appeal to Commonwealth Court.

“The district is surprised and extremely disappointed in Judge Ashworth’s most recent ruling, particularly because he did not address numerous legal arguments the district raised,” it said in a statement posted to its website.

Kabel’s lawyer, Michael Peters of Eastburn & Gray, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The district will continue to collect school property taxes until the case is resolved in the courts. If Kabel were to assume that duty under the rate set by the school board 22 years ago, she would receive $2,160 annually, or $1.25 per hour, according to court filings.

Kabel already collects taxes for the township and county, for which she is paid about $19,800 a year, or $11.43 per hour.

Despite ruling in Kabel’s favor, Ashworth faulted the tax collector for filing her original complaint a day before being elected. Doing so “deprived the electorate of the opportunity to make an informed decision” in light of Kabel’s compensation challenge, Ashworth said.

As of June 30, the district has paid $119,500 in legal fees related to Kabel’s lawsuit.

In addition to contesting her compensation rate, Kabel challenged a resolution passed by the board in May 2018 that established policies and procedures for tax collectors. Several of the policies, Kabel stated, would “intrude upon, interfere with, and outright prevent” Kabel’s ability to perform her duties.

Ashworth sided with Kabel on three of them — one that prohibited Kabel from providing customer service, one that imposed a greater penalty for late reporting and another that denied Kabel’s ability to issue tax certifications, which confirm tax bills have been paid.

During an April hearing, Kabel testified that 55% of her time collecting taxes requires customer service-related work.

Providing customer service and issuing tax certifications will now be split between Kabel and the district, which could mean less revenue for the district.

If Kabel would start retaining tax certification fees, “that could eliminate a revenue stream that has generated approximately $186,840 for the District over the past five years,” the district said.

MT Tax Collector Order by Alex Geli on Scribd