WILKES-BARRE — A judge has rejected an attempt to stop Luzerne County from collecting taxes in-house rather than through elected tax collectors.
Citing state and case law, and quoting the Luzerne County home rule charter at length, Luzerne County Senior Judge David Grine rejected a request for an in injunction barring the switch to in-house collection by the county’s Budget and Finance Department. The injunction had been sought by the Luzerne County Tax Collector’s Association and several individuals either serving in elected office or seeking office as elected tax collectors.
County council voted to take tax collection in-house in February, with the switch set for Jan. 1, 2014. The Association filed for an injunction in March, arguing the move improperly divests elected tax collectors of their authority to collect taxes, contrary to state law.
In his opinion, Grine cites the state “Home Rule Law that gives counties the power to create their own form of government. In 2010, Luzerne County voters approved a switch from the old, three-commissioner form of government heavily regulated by state law to a new, 11-council member form, a change that took effect in January of 2012.
The Association argued Luzerne County’s new home rule charter does not explicitly grant council the power to take tax collection away from elected collectors and conduct it in-house. But Grine ruled that the language of the charter is broad enough to encompass such action.
Grine also noted the state Home Rule Law “is clear that home rule charters are to be liberally construed in favor of the municipal authority, and in the absence of specific language, power to act is presumed.
“The Pennsylvania Constitution and the Home Rule Law clearly permit home rule municipalities to exercise any power not denied by a provision of the state constitution, generally applicable state statue, or the municipality’s home rule charter,” Grine wrote. “Plaintiffs have not shown any such provision denying the ordinance, and it’s enactment falls within the broad powers set forth in the charter.
Attorney Matthew Carmody, of the firm Eliot Greenleaf & Dean, which represented the county, dubbed the ruling a win for taxpayers.
“The county is expected to save approximately $400,000 a year” making the switch, Carmody said, “so this is a significant victory for residents of Luzerne County and especially for the taxpayers.