Shik school director to request public hearing on

SUNBURY — A Shikellamy school director is requesting a public hearing for residents to discuss the occupational tax.

Director Slade Shreck said ever since mail notifications to Shikellamy School District high school and college students went out informing them they now would be paying occupational tax, members of the public have spoken to him about the system.

The district said the letters were sent in error and those who received them could fill out an exempt form, but Shreck said the whole system needs to be changed.

State Rep. Lynda Culver and Sunbury Treasurer Kevin Troup also said they fielded calls from residents about the legality of the tax.

Culver said her office received several calls from concerned parents asking why their child was sent the tax bill.

Culver said she even heard from parents whose high school children received the bill.

Superintendent Jason Bendle said the district was made aware and has since corrected the issue.

“Full-time students will be exonerated,” he said. “All they will have to do is fill out the exempt forms and show proof of enrollment.”

Bendle said some high school students may have been missed when the original tax bill was sent out. “If we missed one, they will be exempt,” he said.

Now Shreck said he will be requesting the board to hold a public hearing to hear from residents on whether Act 511 should be placed on the ballot.

The occupational assessment tax, generally based on a job title or category, has long been considered an antiquated and often inequitable form of taxation, and most school districts in the region replaced it with an earned income tax more than a decade ago.

The authorization to eliminate occupational assessment taxes was outlined in the Optional Occupation Tax Elimination Act 24 of 2001, and was later recast in Act 511 in 2008.

It allows school districts to use specified calculations to determine the earned income tax rate that would be assessed if the occupational assessment tax is replaced. Individuals would be taxed on what they earn, not a job title. School officials said the rate is about 1-percent of earnings.

The district would then guarantee they are getting their tax money, whereas they have now had thousands of dollars in outstanding fees that may never be collected.

In order to change the occupational tax, directors would need to vote to allow the decision to be made by the taxpayers and placed on a ballot.

“I am going to request a hearing after I spoke to members of the public who were asking questions,” he said. “I think we should have the hearing and listen to the public and go from there.”

The hearing is needed before the board could vote on whether to place a question on the ballot for the public to vote on keeping the same taxing system in place or replacing it.

The last time the board voted on putting the choice on the ballot was in 2015. With a 3-3 vote, the measure failed.

Selinsgrove, Lewisburg, Milton and Danville have all implemented Act 130.

Shikellamy Business Manager Brian Manning previously said if the district were to switch to Act 130, there are some benefits and some disadvantages.

Manning said the way the system is set up the district would have to go back to 2009 tax assessments and that could potentially lose revenue for the district. Manning said the advantage is there would be no more occupational tax bill that comes in the mail.

Manning said Act 130 would replace the way things are done now, not eliminate it and there is no benefit to the district because the switch would not generate any additional income for the district.

“Obviously wages grow over time, and there could be a growth in the number we collect but when the economy is down the dip will happen again,” he said.

Culver said she also heard from constituents that they believe the tax system could be fairer with everyone paying a percentage of their salary, rather than job classifications.

Culver said she believes in local control and the school board making the decisions because they are their own governmental agency.