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Keep Elected Tax Collectors On Job

January 3, 2019

Sponsorship memos have circulated among state representatives and senators claiming to “improve” local government by abolishing elected tax collectors positions through resolutions. Everyone wants to improve local government but you can’t get there from here with this legislation. The legislation would allow third-class counties to centralize taxation. This would happen without voters having a say in how they want 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 county treasurers and allow municipalities and school districts to appoint a collector of real estate taxes. It could be implemented by a resolution. Municipalities could eliminate positions of elected tax collectors. It would violate the whole assumption in state and national constitutions that there should be consent of taxpayers when elected offices are abolished. Eliminating elected offices should not be permitted by a stroke of a pen or a resolution. Further, giving counties and municipalities the power of elected tax collectors could bring out the worst in politics. Consider a local clash of personalities. In local government, these things happen. This proposed legislation says that one elected office can vote to eliminate another elected office and then appoint anyone (such as a friend, relative, political consideration or specified business with ties to the elected office). Should one governmental body have this power over another? In addition to the consent of the governed issue, there is the perception of a potential conflict of interest depending on who gets the appointment after a tax collector’s position is abolished. Established in 1958, the Pennsylvania State Tax Collectors Association knows that services tax collectors provide to taxpayers serve an important role in communities that elect them. Elected tax collectors are one of the best examples of local government at its best. The association maintains that the present system of elected tax collectors embodies government that is closest to the people. Our local government structure makes our commonwealth unique. An assumption behind this legislation is flawed. Proponents assert that this legislation will improve effectiveness and efficiency and that the commonwealth needs to help local governments move into the 21st century. This holds that consolidation of governmental functions — including taxing — into larger units of government is 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 with tax collectors. Tax collectors spend a significant amount of time being responsive to individual need. Centralizing tax collection means losing a taxpayer resource to an impersonal system. Eliminating the position works against government responsiveness to the people.

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