Triple tax burden growing to level too great to bear

The Sun-Gazette published a very detailed listing last Sunday of exactly what the tax burden looks like for property owners in Lycoming County.

The listing showed the combined tax bill for municipal, school and county government to homeowners with a property valued at $100,000, a modest value in 2018.

The total bill in Wililamsport is $3,730, by far the most. But there is plenty of sobering news throughout the listing, with the bill ranging from $2,100 to $2,860.

We feel safe in saying this is the largest single bill paid by these homeowners in any given year. And imagine what that bill totals for someone owning a home valued in the $200,000 to $300,000 range, which is really not an extravagant property today.

The only thing more sobering than the bill totals is the realization that there are not a lot of solutions to the problem.

Replacement of real estate taxes with increases in state sales and income taxes might have worked two or three decades ago, but the amount of that increase that would be necessary today would be exorbitant, even if it were only for partial replacement of property taxes.

Cutting costs of government through stricter hiring practices and merging or consolidation of services among neighboring municipalities is something we’ve advocated for years, but progress has been slow on that front.

And the plain truth is most municipal governments already are operating with pretty lean budgets, so significant cost savings are few and far between.

We do think municipalities should receive more than $52 from the municipal services tax for the services they provide to people working within their boundaries. But it would be impossible to raise that fee to a level that would substantially reduce property taxes.

The end conclusion is that it is incumbent on all elected officials of municipalities, school districts and county government to always consider taxpayers when they are making budget-related decisions. While they have an obligation to provide services to those they serve, it’s too easy to forget that most of the people paying the freight to provide those services already are writing checks beyond their means.