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Forum will explore alternative tax pitch

Proposal would allow county to levy income or sales tax to alleviate property tax burden.

Luzerne County Commissioner Greg Skrepenak and other county officials across the state are pushing for state legislators to support a proposal they say could lead to lower county property taxes.

Skrepenak will host a public Tax Fairness Forum on Thursday night to discuss the idea.

The County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania has been lobbying the state for some time to approve legislation that would empower counties to levy additional taxes, including up to a 1 percent sales tax and a personal income tax up to 1 percent.

While school districts and municipalities have the authority to levy earned income, personal income and other taxes, almost every county in the state lacks such power.

“Generating tax revenue through a modest personal income tax, and/or sales tax would give Luzerne County the ability to significantly lower property taxes and provide relief to the citizens who are being hit hardest by reassessment. I believe it’s something we must explore,” Skrepenak said.

The countywide reassessment, coupled with the slumping economy, the aging population and the loss of jobs, is putting a strain on the county budget and property owners’ wallets.

“I think we’re at the breaking point,” Skrepenak said Tuesday.

A 1 percent sales tax would generate $17 million a year for Luzerne County, he said, and the same percentage in earned income tax would bring in $24 million annually.

Skrepenak said he believes that at first only one of the two should be implemented, “but I do envision at some point doing them both.”

The initiative isn’t new.

During the 2005-06 legislative session, a bill was introduced in the state House that addressed the idea.

Co-sponsors of House Bill 1248 of 2005 included several local legislators – Phyllis Mundy, D-Kingston; John Yudichak, D-Nanticoke; Mario Scavello, R-Mount Pocono and now-retired Tom Tigue, D-Hughestown.

The bill was referred to the Finance Committee on March 31, 2005, but did not advance further.

Mundy said she “supports the concept” but she’d need to hear more before getting 100 percent behind the commissioners’ campaign.

Long a proponent of lessening the property tax burden on state residents, Mundy said allowing counties to collect sales tax and income tax sounds good on paper, but she noted the idea has been put on statewide and local ballots in recent years and failed.

“He (Skrepenak) wants us to do at the state level what those at the local level have refused to do,” Mundy said.

IF YOU GO

What: Tax Fairness Forum

Where: Room 131 of the Education Conference Center, Luzerne County Community College, Nanticoke

When: 7 p.m. Thursday

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