As many readers may know, last August, Judge Joseph A. Smyth of the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas ordered the District to rescind any tax increase for 2017 in excess of 2.4 percent. The district appealed this decision, but, on April 20, the appeal was denied. The nature of the original case was that a citizen of the area, Arthur Wolk Esq., argued that the district has circumvented tax laws by consistently forecasting a deficit for each upcoming year, raising taxes to account for the prediction, but then never actually experiencing a deficit. Therefore, last August, Montgomery County Judge Smyth ruled that LMSD should not raise its taxes on the index previously decided upon. In response, LMSD filed for an appeal.
Specifically, the district requested from the Pennsylvania Department of Education that it be allowed to raise taxes more than the limit of a 2.4 percent increase each year. The district did this for several years, including this school year, on the grounds that they forecasted a deficit. A 2.4 percent increase is the limit for Pennsylvania school districts unless the Pennsylvania Department of Education approves a higher limit. The department would grant these additional increases, such as a 4.44 percent increase for the current school year (the increase the lawsuit is based around), but the district had a surplus each year. Because Wolk maintains that the Department of Education should not have approved these increases, Wolk has demanded that the entire tax increase be voided, according to District Solicitor Kenneth Roos. However, the district has argued that it has abided by all laws, so there should be no legitimate arguments to bring against it in court.
In the original decision, Smyth had ruled partially in favor of Wolk in saying that LMSD should only increase taxes by the maximum they would without approval of the Department of Education. However, it failed to issue any punishment for the district’s action and this case only concerns this school year, so any consequences would only apply to this year’s taxes. If the district cannot successfully overturn the decision, then the district might need to retroactively return money to taxpayers that was over the 2.4 percent increase.
Even though the district has lost in hearings so far, the decision can still be heard in the Commonwealth Court since the district is applying for the denied appeal to be reconsidered (the application was filed May 4). In applying for the reconsideration of the denial, the district is asking for a “seven-judge panel to rehear this case,” reports District Solicitor Ken Roos, instead of the three judge panel that initially heard the case because, according to Roos, “it’s that important as a procedural issue so it’s that important as a school issue.” Afterwards, no matter the final decision in the Commonwealth Court, either Wolk or the district could appeal so that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court hears the case. Even as this case ends, Wolk has said publicly that he will challenge all future tax increases made by the district.