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Legislation looks at tax flexibility, remote meetings

A bill passed this week in the state Senate includes a provision to give local governments more flexibility to extend deadlines for property tax discounts at any time up to Aug. 31.

Senate Bill 841 would also allow local governments to conduct remote meetings and gives notaries emergency authorization to notarize documents through communications technology.

State Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township, who voted in favor of the bill, noted that the measures help local governments respond to COVID-19.

Municipalities and counties alike can opt to extend the tax discount even without Legislative action.

So far, Lycoming County has not taken up the property tax issue. The deadline for taxpayers to take advantage of the 2 percent payment discount is April 30.

“We certainly have a little time before the discount kicks in and more time before the actual deadline,” Lycoming County Commissioner Rick Mirabito said. “I would be inclined to support it. Given the circumstances we have this year, any assistance we can give our taxpayers would be much appreciated.”

The bill now goes before the state House.

State Rep. Jeff Wheeland, R-Loyalsock, noted that the county can decide on its own about pushing back the tax deadline.

“Everyone has an opinion on it,” he said. “A significant number of homes have their taxes in escrow. I have talked to other county commissioners across the state. They are all over the board. Some counties are past their discount period.”

Wheeland said it’s an issue that the House will consider.

“Ultimately, it’s the county’s call,” he said.

Yaw noted that the provision for conducting virtual meetings does its best to cover local governments of different sizes and technological capabilities.

“Remember, there are more than 2,500 municipalities across Pennsylvania,” he said. “Some places have no internet or cell phone service. Three weeks ago, we never would have thought about having these virtual meetings and conference calls to include everyone.”

Yaw said the bill does not specifically address denying public access or participation to local government meetings during the coronavirus pandemic. Such decisions would be left up to those government agencies and their legal representation.

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