State Court Upholds Tax Collector Ruling
After having reviewed an appeal filed by the Fulton County Tax Collectors Association, a trio of judges with the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania recently affirmed that the nine disgruntled township tax collectors named in the civil action have again failed to prove a former board of Fulton County commissioners improperly reduced their monetary compensation.
In a court order issued last Tuesday, Commonwealth judges Dan Pellegrini, Mary Hannah Leavitt and Jim Flaherty agreed with the previous order of the Fulton County Court of Common Pleas dated June 2, 2008.
In their own memorandum opinion signed by Judge Pellegrini, the order shows the judges looked at a series of accusations made by the Tax Collectors Association during the duration of the four-year suit, including that commissioners Daniel Swain Jr., Bonnie Mellott Keefer and Ellis Yingling “lied” in claiming their lone motive for the change in payment was to reduce the county’s budget. The rate of compensation was lowered by the commissioners from 4.25 percent of all real estate and percapita tax to a flat fee of $4 per paid or unpaid parcel, which reportedly represents an overall reduction of 65 to 75 percent.
The tax collectors also claimed through their legal counsel Angelo Papa of New Castle the reduction in compensation was so low it was an obvious attempt to discourage others for running for the elected office, and no evidence was utilized by the former board of commissioners in making the decision.
The signed order further indicates additional allegations by the tax collectors carried no merit as “when any taxing district or taxing authority proposes to either raise or reduce the compensation or salary for the office of an elected tax collector, such action shall be by ordinance or resolution, finally passed or adopted prior to the fifteenth day of February of the year of the municipal election.”
“Next as tax collectors claim that the money saved by the county went to pay friends and family on the payroll, they could discover only two individuals in the entire county government who were friends of a commissioner, both of whom performed legitimate jobs at a normal salary,” the judge’s order states.
“Additionally, in contradiction to the tax collectors’ claim that the commissioners considered no evidence when making the reduction in tax collectors’ compensation, their own complaint states that the commissioners relied on a report by a business manager and a table of tax collectors’ compensation in other counties. That same report shows that even after the reduction in compensation, tax collectors were still paid more than their counterparts in many other Pennsylvania counties,” it concludes.
In April 2007, Bedford County Court of Common Pleas Judge Daniel Howsare dismissed the complaint without prejudice, thereby allowing attorney Papa to rewrite and refile an amended complaint on behalf of local tax collectors Arlene Nesbitt, G. Jean Morton, Debra Palmer, M. Wildena Truax, Becky Mellott Peck, Judith Appleby, Dianna Kincaid, Janet Mellott and Nancy Oakman.
In June 2008, Judge Howsare was again asked to review the case. After reviewing preliminary objections, he revealed the plaintiffs “failed to state sufficient facts” to support their claim. The case was dismissed with prejudice meaning the matter could only continue or move forward if an appeal was taken to a higher court system.