Report details fiscal burdens for communities

Communities across the state are struggling as never before with high tax burdens and shrinking tax bases.

A Pennsylvania Economy League report shared with government and business leaders Friday revealed that communities with their own police departments on average had twice the municipal tax burden of those that use state police for free.

“If you don’t have a police department, there’s no incentive to start one,” PEL Executive Director Gerald Cross said.

“Communities in Crisis: The Truth and Consequences of Municipal Fiscal Distress in Pennsylvania, 1970 to 2014, ranked each and every one of the state’s municipalities with the exception of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

The good news for central Pennsylvania, Cross said, is that many of those municipalities, including in Lycoming County, are doing better than many places across the state.

“This report is actually positive for the central region,” he said.

The more urban areas of the region, he noted, including Williamsport, tend to have a more difficult time than surrounding communities.

A formula used to rank each of the municipalities considered community tax bases with respect to their tax burdens.

Williamsport, Jersey Shore, Montgomery, South Williamsport and Old Lycoming Township are among local communities achieving quintile scores of 5 for the year 2014 — low tax bases with heavy tax burdens.

A high tax base and a low tax burden resulted in a score of as high as 1 and includes such rural communities of Lycoming County as Picture Rocks, Anthony and Penn townships.

Cross noted that the trend for cities and first-class townships is largely negative throughout central Pennsylvania.

Meanwhile, the trend for boroughs and second-class townships could be described as “mixed positive.”

Across the board, Cross said, the tax burden is increasing.

“The question is whether you have the wealth to handle it,” he said.

Cross said many communities have no room for development and therefore cannot expand their tax bases.

He said the state has to catch up with the times.

Urban areas, he noted, while carrying the larger amount of costly services, no longer have the wealth and population to pay for them, which has shifted to previously rural areas and townships.

Williamsport Mayor Gabriel Campana said cities such as his simply cannot create additional wealth.

“Cities cannot compete when townships get state police for free,” he said.

Williamsport attorney William Nichols termed taxation in Pennsylvania as “unfair.”

He noted that people from surrounding communities come to Williamsport, yet city residents pay the highest taxes in the area.

Cross said the PEL report offers no solutions to the problems.

Lycoming County Commissioner Rick Mirabito said people cannot depend on state lawmakers to solve the issue.

“It has to start locally,” Cross said.