LAMARTINE - Salem Township Tax Collector Kim Wyman Nov. 6 suggested township supervisors check with their legal counsel to ensure a recently approved real estate tax increase was done properly.
That led to the board of supervisors learning it apparently doesn't have legal counsel.
Salem Township supervisors Larry Smith, Eric Sherman and Eric Barnett Oct. 7 approved a real estate tax increase for 2020, taking the millage rate from 1.664 mills to 3.481 mills.
Salem Township's 2019 millage rate is 1.664, meaning the township collects $1.65 on each $1,000 of assessed value on a property. For example, a property assessment total of $25,000 would produce about $41.65 in real estate tax revenue.
In 2019, Salem Township collected $14,331 in real estate taxes an amount less than the snowplow and material spreader needed for one of the municipality's trucks -- $21,000.
The new tax rate is anticipated to bring in $30,006 in 2020.
According to estimates made by the Clarion County Office of Tax Assessments, the tax increase will cost the average property owner $28 in additional taxes in 2020.
Wyman said she has fielded numerous telephone calls about the tax increase, which approximately doubled the millage rate.
Wyman said many Salem Township property owners were concerned about a portion of a news report that stated the "average" property owner would pay about $28 more in annual township real estate taxes.
Wyman said some older residents, including one who pays approximately $4 per year, said they could not afford an "across the board" $28 increase.
A more accurate description of the tax increase is for property owners to estimate their township tax doubling next year.
Was it done legally?
Wyman also questioned if the tax increase was done according to legal procedures.
Wyman, who said she used to work in an attorney's office, also said she checked with two other township secretaries and was told the township must advertise its intention to increase taxes and conduct a public meeting to provide a chance for township taxpayers to question and comment the action.
The supervisors' intention to adopt the proposed budget also must be advertised at 20 days before its final adoption.
The board of supervisors Nov. 6 agreed to advertise their intent to adopt the budget next month.
According to the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors, "A notice of the township's intent to adopt a proposed ordinance or amendment that would establish or increase a tax or license fee, the reason for imposing the tax or fee, and the amount of revenue to be derived from it must be published once a week for three weeks."
However, PSATS also noted, "This requirement does not apply to the real estate tax authorized by Section 3205 of the Township Code."
The board of supervisors last month passed the increase by resolution.
Salem Township Secretary Jennifer Wade said she will include that resolution information in the advertisement for the proposed budget.
The board of supervisors appointed Scott Schreffler of Emlenton as township legal counsel at the township's January 2019 reorganization meeting.
At the time, it was more of a formality as Schreffler served as township legal counsel for many years.
Wyman, however, said she contacted Schreffler's office with the questions about the tax increase and was told Schreffler no longer represented the township.
Wade said the township did not have a retainer agreement with Schreffler and did not use any of his services this year.
Sherman said the board of supervisors and Wade will look into finding and appointing new legal counsel.
Appointing legal counsel is one of numerous actions expected at the township's state-mandated annual reorganization meeting in January.
In other business, the board of supervisors agreed to sell the township's 2001 one-ton Chevrolet 3500 general purpose truck to Curtis Wray of Knox for $851.
The truck would not pass state inspection. Wray submitted the lone bid for the truck.