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United States : Hazleton Area looks to refund school tax money.

The Hazleton Area School District can reopen its budget and refund the estimated $800,000 to $1 million generated from property tax increases in Luzerne and Schuylkill counties, school officials said.

Now, school officials are working to determine the best way to get that money back into the hands of taxpayers, including property owners in East and North Union townships in Schuylkill County.

The district has two possibilities for returning money to taxpayers, but neither is likely to materialize until next year's tax bills are prepared, district Business Manager Anthony Ryba said.

Ryba spent the past week working with Hazleton Area Solicitor Chris Slusser and state Department of Education officials to determine whether the district can reopen its budget and adjust its millage rate to reflect a tax refund.

"There's legislation passed with the (state) budget that does allow you to open the (local school) budget," Ryba said. "(Slusser) felt it allows you to levy taxes."

Ryba said he also checked with state education officials, who concurred with Slusser.

But this year's tax bills have already been issued and several taxpayers have paid, a scenario that Ryba said could create problems for issuing refunds. Plus, the school district would have to pay about $32,000 to re-print and mail a new set of tax bills, he said. Refunds would range from a low of $6 to a few properties that would be eligible for as much as $1,000, he said.

After talking with state officials, Ryba proposed two scenarios the district can pursue for returning money generated from the tax hikes.

The first would tack an additional property tax rebate onto next year's Homestead exceptions. This year's exemption is about $365.

An alternative would involve calculating revenue generated by the tax increase - which Ryba and school Director Robert Childs estimate is between $800,000 and $1 million - and reducing next year's tax bills accordingly.

Ryba will research both avenues and report back to the board with options.

School directors last week approved Childs' motion to review the possibility of giving back the tax increase in light of $3 million in unanticipated state subsidies the district will receive this year.

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Date:Jul 27, 2010
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