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Guest Commentary

Keystone Opportunity to fleece taxpayers?
Tax freedom for some owners of real estate but not for others is obscene and unfair.

There is no way to explain how the Keystone Opportunity Zone (KOZ) meets the state Constitution's requirement for uniformity of taxation other than our state senators and representatives say it is so by passing a "bill."

Those who own property in a KOZ don't have to pay for any public services funded by property taxes and any of the other taxes levied by local taxing jurisdictions.

When they authorized a KOZ, local township supervisors, school district board directors, and board of Fayette County commissioners in separate resolutions waived all local taxes.

Will any school board member who passed a resolution designating a KOZ in your district explain to the non-KOZ property owners why they have to pay for educating hundreds of youth during that same period?

Our state legislators should be ashamed of the KOZ legislation that puts the tax burden that accompanies the American-dream of home ownership only on non-KOZ residents.

Residential property owners who do not own property in a KOZ must pay local property taxes at threat of fines, liens and eventual tax sale of the property.

Meanwhile the KOZ property owner's tax bill is zeroed out.

Where is the outrage from the Springhill Township residents who will have to walk out of their modest houses or small farmhouses and face daily the executive mansions tax-free right across the district-maintained road?

Where are all the other county homeowners who must suffer the additional taxation over the same 12 years to make up for those who won't have to pay anything during that time?

Where are the other local land developers or resort owners who have plans for new housing or condominiums or expanded golf courses?

Are they afraid of something, some political fallout if they say no, not here, not now, not ever?

Where are the township supervisors and school district board members? Are they hiding out now because they didn't ask enough questions four or five years ago about what could be included in KOZ areas? Had they all been made aware then that KOZ in Fayette, though not the plan for residential in 1998, could be used for residential property at some time in the future? Would they have signed on the dotted lines, in our names, if they had known then that potential millions in property tax revenues would be waived for 12 years?

When Fay Penn first presented the KOZ to the then-board of commissioners and school boards and township supervisors, they put out a packet of material which stated what kind of properties would not be included in Fayette's KOZ.

No private property, no commercial and no residential - none of that in a Fayette KOZ. Now that they are in debt to the tune of a million-plus they probably have to get rid of all the properties they scooped up to control, but weren't able to attract industrial ventures to even with the local and state tax forgiveness of the KOZs.

This situation in Springhill Township isn't a simple matter of rezoning acreage from light industrial to residential/community development, or whatever new classification to fit the altered plan.

There is plenty of other property available for sale elsewhere in the county, already zoned residential. It's a slap in the face to expect somebody who may own a modest house to pay more than a fair share of taxes.

The legislators who reside in Fayette County who signed onto KOZ legislation should be asked how they can justify this kind of in-your-face unfairness.

Give us one good reason why we should have to pay our newly reassessed property taxes while others don't have to pay, simply because they are well-off enough to opt into a $100,000 to potentially million dollar house/property located in a segregated area designated KOZ?

Why should the rest of us have to pay for the salaries of the commissioners, the addition to the county jail, the property tax reassessment costs, the tax-assessment appeals panel, the salaries of the county tax-assessment office, the county department of community and economic development, grant writers, or anything related to county government?

Why should we pay your state salaries with our hard earned money, when others will own free in KOZ.

I want to hear how economic development promises trump the sworn oath elected officials took to our state Constitution, which mandates uniform taxes.

Explain clearly and loudly how it is fair for some to face potential loss of house and property for not paying taxes, while others will not have that threat hanging over them for the next 12 years?

I want to hear the two commissioners who voted to rezone the Springhill KOZ acreage justify even one home-owner's house or land going up for tax sale this year or in any year for the duration of this travesty. Ron Nehls is a lost cause - a no-brainer - he's already said he may even move out of the area, so what a nice joke on us.

Wake up, Fayette, what do you fear? You send your hard-earned money to pay these legislators to do this kind of injustice to you. It's time to say no to Crystal Springs Properties Inc. development plan, before the first house goes up.

It's time to write your state legislators, call and fax them, and go stand on the public streets with the protest signs and say: Repeal KOZ, now. It hasn't worked in Fayette for industrial development as originally intended during the first 5 years; that's an indication it is unlikely to work for the next 5 to 10 years.

Those who promote the tax-free zones acknowledge the state and local taxes to be forgiven are a "tax burden." That's right, they are tax burdens, and that is the reason why our state legislators are obligated to impose those burdens in a uniform and fair way.

No amount of twisting of words that this will benefit the state 12 years down the road, or this will bring jobs, jobs, jobs, will ever be able to make up for the unconscionable injustice when one home-owner or property owner or business owner suffers loss of house, property or business for failure to be able to meet these tax burdens during the same time period others are not so "tax-burdened."

ŠThe Herald Standard 2003