Sponsorship memos have been circulated to Pennsylvania State Representatives and Senators that claim to “improve” local government by abolishing the elected office of Tax Collector by a simple resolution by another governmental entity. Everyone wants to improve local government but you can’t get there from here with this legislation.
The legislation would allow counties of the third class to take taxation away from the local level and centralize it under the county. This would happen without the voters having a say in how they want their local government to function. These proposals seek to amend the Local Tax Collection Law to allow for collection of all county real estate taxes by the county treasurer; allows municipalities and school districts the ability to appoint anyone to collect their real estate taxes, and could be implemented by a simple resolution without voter involvement.
By establishing an optional alternative tax collection agreement, municipalities eliminate the position of the elected Office of Tax Collector. It violates the whole assumption in both State and National Constitutions that there should be consent by the governed (local Taxpayers) when an elected office is obliterated. An elected office reflects the will of the people. Eliminating an elected office should not be permitted simply by a stroke of a pen or a simple resolution.
Further, giving counties and municipalities the power to eliminate the office of elected Tax Collector could bring out the worst in politics. Let’s say that there is a local clash of personalities. It may not be a partisan issue. In local government, these things happen.
This proposed legislation says that one elected office can simply vote to eliminate another elected office and then appoint anyone they choose (friend, relative, political consideration, specified business with ties to the elected office, etc.). Should one governmental body be allowed to have this power over another elective office? In addition to the consent of the governed issue, there is the very real perception of a conflict of interest depending on who gets the appointment after the elected office of Tax Collector is abolished.
Established in 1958, the Pennsylvania State Tax Collectors’ Association is a professional organization representing Tax Collectors in Pennsylvania. We know that services Tax Collectors provide to the taxpayers of Pennsylvania serve an important role to the communities that elect them. Elected Tax Collectors are one of the best examples of Local Government at its best.
The Pennsylvania State Tax Collectors’ Association maintains that the present system of elected Tax Collectors embodies government that is truly closest to the people. Our local government structure is what makes our Commonwealth unique.
An assumption behind this legislation is flawed. Bigger Is Not Necessarily Better.
Proponents of this type of legislation assert that this legislation will improve effectiveness and efficiency and that the Commonwealth needs to help local governments move into the 21st Century. This mantra holds that consolidation of governmental functions (taxing) into larger units of government is by definition more efficient. Bigger is not necessarily better. Centralization can lead to an impersonal system where taxpayers no longer get personalized answers to their tax questions as they can now with Tax Collectors. Being responsive to individual needs is what Tax Collectors spend a significant amount of time doing and it is very effective. They take the time to explain the local taxing structure to taxpayers. They take the time to walk people through the complexity. Centralizing tax collection means losing this taxpayer resource to an impersonal system. Eliminating the elected position of Tax Collection works against government responsiveness to the people.
Sherry Labs is President of the PA State Tax Collectors Association, Plumsteadville