Battle over school tax hike in wealthy Pa. district to be heard in state court

The case stems from the district's 2016 decision to boost taxes despite having cash reserves.

A building is seen from afar.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court building in Harrisburg, Pa. (Google Maps)

In a case with potential statewide ramifications, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has decided a legal fight over school taxes in Lower Merion Township will be heard on its merits. The case stems from the district’s 2016 decision to boost taxes despite having cash reserves.

Attorney Arthur Wolk, in a class action suit, claimed Lower Merion used misleading numbers to convince residents to agree to a tax hike, the Act 1 index, which caps tax increases districts can seek without voter approval.

After Wolk won a verdict in a lower court, state Commonwealth Court ruled the district couldn’t appeal based on a procedural quirk. In a unanimous decision this week, the state Supreme Court found the appeal to be valid and sent the case back down to be heard on its merits.

Wolk said Wednesday he was disappointed.

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“So far, up until the point where the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania took the case, we won three times — meaning the people won three times,” he said.

Most statewide school advocacy groups support Lower Merion. They fear a decision against the district could open the floodgates for lawsuits against districts that raise taxes despite having fund balances.

Attorney Alfred W. Putnam, representing the district, said Wolk’s case never should have been handled in court.

“There was another procedure he was supposed to follow, the way it should have been done is through the budget process, and then through the Department of Education, which is the way these things are supposed to be done,” said Putnam.

The loser of this next round will likely appeal to the state Supreme Court.

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