No property tax

If state lawmakers really support eliminating school property taxes, why haven’t they done so?

This is one question citizens will ask a group of lawmakers at a town hall tonight in Berks County.

Citizen advocates will present on the topic and the different groups that have opposed the measure in the past, said Jeff Stout, owner of Stout Associates Realtors, a real estate company hosting the event.

Lancaster County citizen-activist  Grace Strittmatter said her fellow residents, not lawmakers, would set the agenda. “We run the show,” said Strittmatter, a former member of the Manheim Township school board.

Property taxes are the main source of revenue for local school districts. But year after year, districts across the commonwealth raise taxes to fund schools. And that’s expected to continue: the state’s Independent Fiscal Office projects the tax will increase approximately $500 million per year.

All but one Lancaster County school district — Warwick — raised their millage rates for the 2019-20 school year.

Residents have been calling on their legislators to address school property taxes — many calling for a total elimination of the tax — for years. Residents will continue the yearslong conversation and debate solutions at 6:30 p.m. at the Inn at Reading in Wyomissing.

“I have never seen more of an outcry today for these high property taxes,” said Stout, who has been in the real estate business for 40 years

Organizers say several legislators representing parts of Berks County are scheduled to attend, including Reps. Mark Gillen, R-Brecknock Township, and Jim Cox, R-East Cocalico Township, who also represent portions of Lancaster County.

The event will also be livestreamed on Facebook on Stout Associates Realtors’ page. Following the presentation will be a question-and-answer period between event organizers, attendees and lawmakers.

School property tax reform has come up in the Senate and on the ballot — and failed — before. Senate Bill 76, a bill that is consistently reintroduced to eliminate school property taxes and fund school districts through personal income tax and sales tax, last failed on the Senate floor in 2015.

“It’s politics. It’s politics as usual,” Stout said. “And (some lawmakers are) not listening to their constituents. They’re listening to the people that are giving them money for elections and reelections.”